Billionaires and biology

A number of blogs, ideas and headlines have come together to write this article stimulated by some thoughts around “biomimicry”  (creating solutions designed by nature), a topic that has been around for a while but is now being taken more seriously by business thought-leaders.

The first article came from a blog called The Nature of Business and was titled: “Super organisations – learning from nature’s networks” which applies aspects of complexity theory, particular the analysis of networks, to the state of the economy and business today. That sounds like a tough read, but it is surprisingly easy-going and a fascinating article showing how nature organises itself and how there are lessons for business.

That led me to a second article about risk and resilience from a web-site called “Business Inspired by Nature”. It shows how natures uses 3 strategies for building resilience: decentralisation, redundancy and diversity. This is really important. Genesis, along with one of our partner organisations: Consileo (specialists in building resilience through insight and foresight), are convinced that with the increasingly uncertain environment, resilience must be one of the prime requirements for all organisations. The increased possibility of unexpected exogenous shocks, together with coping strategies that are unlikely to be based on past experiences, demands that organisations must build in resilience and the ability to act at the front-line independently and spontaneously. It is clear that nature can provide us with lessons and metaphors that could help us to survive and thrive in these environments.

You are probably wondering where the “billionaires” (from the title) comes into this thinking. That came from a recent Forbes article in August putting Amancia Ortega ahead of Warren Buffet on the billionaires list and in third place overall. To me, Amancia’a organisation Inditex (owner of Zara and other brands), is a great example of a company that (perhaps deliberately or perhaps intuitively) uses nature-type strategies in their own strategies. A detailed description of the Inditex strategy would lengthen this article too much (and it  is easy to Google it), but they manage their entire business more as an ecosystem than a traditional business with boundaries. Built-in flexibility and speed to react are key survival mechanisms that provide its competitive advantage. Latest results of 12% profit increases and 10% revenue, the third consecutive year of growth in an impossibly-tough economic climate, combined with an increase in head-count demonstrates that their strategy is working.

The quality of decision making within an organisation is key to its success, survival or failure. I believe the three resilience building mechanisms adopted by nature hold lessons for how we make decisions in our business to build our own resilience:

  • Decentralisation (performing a function or responding to a disturbance in many distributed locations throughout an organism or system
    rather than in a single or centralized location).
    For example: encourage decentralised decision-making so decisions are made where they are best-informed and which can result in rapid response
  • Redundancy (performing a function or responding to a disturbance in more than
    one way.
    For example: when forced to decide what to do about a specific challenge (such as shrinking revenues), consider a number of different alternatives and allow those options to be explored and applied differently in different areas (locations, divisions, units).
  • Diversity (constantly seeking new and different ways of performing functions or responding to disturbances.)
    For example: find different ways of reacting to challenges and ensure that your decisions are are not based on “how we did it before” heuristics.

How might you go about putting this thinking into practice? It really will require some time and courage. Time to move out of fire-fighting operational mode and give yourself and your team some time to consider your current position and levels of resilience. Courage to move from tried and tested responses and explore some more innovative actions that may help you move from survival-thinking to a thriving-mentality.

Genesis Management Consulting would be delighted to facilitate a workshop with you and your selected team (not necessarily your Executive Committee!) to investigate these options.

For further reading:
Superorganisations – learning from natures networks.
Risk and resilience: how can I protect my organisation from future risk

And a new book that I have not yet started, but comes highly recommended by my colleagues:

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back




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