The Ox and the Oxpecker ...

The Nature of Relationships

An Oxpecker is an African starling that feeds on ticks found on the hide (or hidden up the nose) of larger animals. The relationship between the two species is said to be mutualistic; each gains benefits from the other.

In Nature, every living thing is in a relationship; each influences the other for better or worse. At least two conditions are created by such interaction; one is complexity, an inter-dependence between all living things; the second is sustainability, the increased likelihood that each living thing will survive.

In Business, complexity rarely produces sustainability. Why do so few organizations, given their collective intelligence, live to be 100 years old? Something individuals often do. Why do different perspectives end up polarizing us? What prevents our differences from being valuable parts of progression? Why can’t we feed each other instead of eat at each other?

Deeper understanding lies in deeper awareness of “the four angles of relationship”, the angle which we approach relationships from. The "four angles" might be easier to understand if described as "two pairs", each discussed below. Although each relationship is prevalent in nature, one emerges as the primary force of evolution. Also known as “Darwin’s Blind Spot”, this relationship is the creator of greater complexity and sustainability.

Unequal relationship; one is up and the other is down. A clear perception of rank, one superior and the other inferior - or at its extreme, one alive and the other dead.

In nature, domination and subordination is often a paradox. Between species, one feeds the other. This obviously means “one up, one down” for the individual specimen. But for the species, both benefit – an essential check and balance that maintains the well being of both. Within families, superiority and inferiority defines roles, each contributing to the greater good; i.e., dominate males produce offspring and defend the pack, subordinate males hunt and often tend the young.

Protective or productive relationships: Separation is reaction; often a response to a negative stimulus. Symbiosis is an intention; an attraction to a positive stimulus. Separation may preserve or protect something, but nothing is gained. Symbiosis on the other hand, is a relationship that benefits those engaged in it.

In nature, “avoidance” is our response to a threat. We flee. Avoidance may also be our reaction to un-attraction; i.e., avoiding something or someone that doesn’t appeal to us. Symbiosis, by nature, fills a need or is an attraction. In its simplest form, it is the response to a mating call. Something we are drawn to. At its extreme, it causes something new to emerge. Emergence is the creation of something new that can’t be explained by understanding the parts that created it. We cannot understand flocking behavior by studying each of the birds. We cannot understand love or marriage by understanding the two people that are in it.

We are not only LIKE nature, we ARE nature. We are constantly influencing or being influenced, for better or worse, in one of the four ways discussed;
  • Dominating over
  • Subordinating to
  • Separating from
  • Engaging with

  • Although each relationship has its place and purpose, only the latter benefits each that participate in it; only the latter enhances the circumstances of all.

    The P.I.G. Approach ...

    The Nature of Leadership

    Disclaimer: The narrative contained here-in has nothing to do with pigs. Any attempt to draw a correlation between traits of leaders and traits of swine would be too far reaching. As a former producer of Durocs (a comely breed of swine) I simply liked the acronym.

    “P” stands for potential: developing yours; positively influencing others.
    “I” stands for integral: caring for the parts that make us whole; also caring enough about the larger whole to be an influential part.
    “G” stands for generational: “planting and tending to trees under whose shade we will never sit.”

    In a nutshell, these are the leadership principles that naturally shape our potential, from person to planet. P.I.G. could easily transform into G.P.I. - an indicator being vetted to replace GDP (Gross Domestic Product). GDP is an economic indicator, primarily of spending. GPI is an indicator of human progress. It is an acronym for General Progress Indicator and considers non-economic factors such as human health, public safety, and environmental sustainability.

    Although much of our behavior must change, one behavior will not. As workers, we perform to the factors we are measured against. Here are two performance dimensions we should consider for the future:

    LEVEL of SYSTEM – Spheres of Influence
  • Individual – part within the whole
  • Organization – sum of the parts
  • Global Citizen - part played in the collective whole

  • LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE – Styles of Influence
  • Economic – value and productivity
  • Fulfillment – potential and well being
  • Sustainability – ongoing availability

  • The more entwined our lives, our business and our environment become, the more essential it is that we understand the principles that sustain them all and the health of each.


    Tome of the Tomato ...

    The Nature of Growth and Maintenance - Part II

    Feel free to try this experiment at home. Plant two tomato plants. Fertilize the first with a balanced fertilizer. The package might read 10-10-10 (describing the equal percentages of its ingredients: (N) Nitrogen, (P) Phosphorous, and (K) Potassium). Fertilize the second with high nitrogen fertilizer, typically used for lawns (package might read 30-0-0).

    The 10-10-10 tomato will be the regular Joe. It will provide for killer BLTs and fresh salsa. The health of the foliage will be contained and maintained, but there will be enough nutrients left for fruit.

    As for tomato 30-0-0? The kids will want to build a tree house in it. It might grow 10 feet tall – lots of foliage, little or no fruit. The Nitrogen acts like the stock market, calling for greater growth. All the available energy goes into producing and maintaining that growth. Nothing is left to grow the essence of the plant, the fruit. That is the lesson of maintenance and the tome of the tomato.

    Here are some key things to consider when applying principles of growth to the practice of business.

    Know what the essence of your business is and keep it healthy. It is your nature – what customers expect and what the business model delivers.

    If growth doubles, maintenance will double plus. Don’t under-estimate the cost of a healthy system.

    Don’t let an idea gestate too long. In a complex world, longer payoffs are unlikely payoffs.

    Invest in innovation and multiple business models. This balances the risk in a world of disruptive and rapid change.

    Your work force should be as diverse as your customer base. Customer wants are cultural perceptions.

    BEWARE THE BROWN BUTT ROT (See previous Blog)
    Stay culturally healthy. A great many mature companies die from the inside out.


    Beware the Brown Butt Rot ...

    The Nature of Growth & Maintenance - Part I

    In nature, maintenance modifies growth in order to sustain life
    In business, growth often outpaces maintenance - causing death

    “Brown Butt Rot” is an infection of old-growth timber created by fungus. The fungus enters through fire scars or wounded roots and eats the tasty wood at the center of the tree, killing it from the inside out. The larger and older an organization is, the more likely it is that death will be caused by internal decay, similar to Rome or any organization that dies before it is a century old. Logic would suggest that the collective intelligence embedded in an organization should keep it adaptive, allowing it to live longer. This is not the case. It is rare to find an organization that lives to see the century mark.

    IN NATURE, as a system grows in size, complexity and diversity, more and more energy is required to maintain it, leaving less energy available for growth. When this happens, growth either slows or stops. When there is not enough energy available for the basic maintenance of the system, the system dies. From a biological perspective, death is not the failure of something, but the failure to maintain it. We witness this type of death in our businesses, in our towns and in our relationships. The oldest living things on the planet are trees that have grown only inches over centuries. They sustain life by growing slowly if at all, putting all the energy available toward maintenance. This preserves the quality of life by preventing disease and decay. The quality of life, not the pace of growth, is the secret to success and a sustainable life.

    IN BUSINESS, we often forsake quality in pursuit of growth and invite disease or decay as a result. Our stakeholders want to see us increase in size. Grow or die is the belief. Grow then die is more often the truth.

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    Lesson of the Leopard’s Spots

    The Nature of Identity

    It is said, “You can’t change a leopard’s spots”, implying that the nature of the beast can’t be taken from it.

    Man is unique in many ways. Besides having opposing thumbs, we are also the only creatures in all creation capable of denying our own nature; the very essence of us. Signs of this truth are well-studied.

  • Well-being? Declining …
  • Job Satisfaction? Declining …
  • Relationships? Breaking …
  • Meaning and Fulfillment? Missing …

  • Search Amazon for “Self Help” and 218,537 titles pop-up. With all that help, what’s the hub-bub? In truth, we have become disoriented, having lost touch with the source of our uniqueness, happiness, and most likely, our success. Much will be written on this topic in future blogs, but for now, let’s start with the basics; the nature of human nature.

    One of the best-intentioned lies we tell our children (and that our parents probably told us) is that they can grow up to be anything they want. Ever watch American Idol? What we have a desire to do must align with what we have the potential for. Genes and experience provide us with abilities as well as limitations. We can become many things, but not anything. My motto is, “ease and appetite”. Your strengths are those things that come easily and naturally to you. Your passions are those things for which you have an instinctive, recurring hunger.

    Living things thrive when they are with other living things. Two plants will grow better next to each other than they will farther apart. Hogs are happier when they are not alone. Two grass seeds if different types will produce more biomass than two seeds of a single type. People who have pets recover from injuries more quickly. People who are married live longer. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Said differently, the oldest form of punishment is isolation. We are built for relationships. Period. Strengthen or restore the good ones. Leave or ignore the bad ones. Don’t break any.

    Put your hand out the window as you drive down the road and steer it into the wind. Up, down, side to side. This is a metaphor for the way potential progresses. An opposing force improves steerage and elevates our abilities or exposes their limitations. Muscles and bones are strengthened by resistance work. The brain profits only when it is taxed. We cannot step into our potential unless there is a challenge to step up to. Potential cannot improve without being challenged. Looking at it from another extreme, the second oldest form of punishment (after isolation) is immobility. Standing perfectly still for long periods of time, is a form of torture. Simply put, we were built to be do-ers. When trying to find yourself, think about “thought” as the map, and “action” as the compass you use when treading about. Maps are necessary, but if you want to get somewhere, you just have to move.

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    The Tail of Tragedy ...

    Our Principle Violations

    As a corporate strategist, it was my job to pick out social and economic patterns that impacted our business or that our business could impact. Many trends sat outside the bounds of our business. Some were big and scary. I was so affected that I left that company and started the Nature of Business, hoping to help. I remain hopeful, if for no other reason than that human nature is often at its best when things are at their worst.
    Here are some of the biggies as I see/saw them …

    Many things in nature grow at a geometric rate. So it is with the pace of change. Complexity, in its simplest definition, means that there is a lot of stuff, and that stuff is moving a lot faster, and all the individual pieces are having an impact on each other.

    - - With complexity, you get lots of unintended, even unimaginable, consequences. The pieces are connected, so if you move one, you are impacting many. The way we behave today, will have consequences we can’t imagine – for better or worse. S--t will happen.
    - - With complexity, we know more as a group, but less as individuals. As the body of human knowledge grows, proportionately, we have less of it. The wisdom of the group will become more important.

    Nature creates complexity and thrives in it.
    By comparison, we seem to be disoriented and confused by it.

    When things that use to be in the middle start to move to the ends. For many of you, your first thought about extremism, was likely religious extremism; that self-righteous state of mind that makes others wrong. True, that falls into this category. But I’m talking about a face of extremism that looks more like the face we see in the mirror each morning. Extremism exists at home. We are one-sided in our views, more eager to talk than to listen, mired in false-hoods, disinterested in facts, and even less interested in finding common ground.

    See “Complexity” above; the root of this evil. Although the human system is built for change, we resist it. Although we are designed for learning, "knowing" has become more important. Despite the fact we are capable of more together, we want to act alone. Complexity guarantees certain things; that the future is less predictable, our actions have unintended consequences, we have a decreasing amount of knowledge as a person, we are increasingly interdependent. … - all pointing to the need for commonality, shared knowledge and joint effort. Interesting then, that “polarization” is such an evident trend.

    These twin issues have the power to block out the sun, literally. It is said, “we either face reality or ramp up our delusion". There remains two camps on most environmental and energy issues, each claiming the other is smoking whacky-tobaccy. Sub-trends here are the amount of behavioral changes being made, the innovation of energy sources, and the way our consumables are made, sold, used, and recycled. All are significant.

    The more astounding sub-trend to me, is the debate itself. It speaks to our deep disconnect from the natural world around us. Grown-ups understand that you cannot run a car inside a closed garage. Most grown-ups know that earth’s air is contained within a little something called “atmosphere” which traps the air in a lot like a garage door. Didn’t it occur to us that after trillions of miles by millions of cars, we eventually might doze off? Science can be confusing but oxygen is crystal clear.

    The fact remains that nature has an incomprehensible restorative power. But even a healthy system occasionally needs help fighting dis-ease. We have the choice to be the curse or the cure. Regardless, we need to stop saying we are going to "save the planet." It is untrue. The planet will do just fine without us. This is purely self preservation.

    The Nature of Business

    Doing something NATURALLY means "with ease or by instinct"
    Doing something UN-NATURALLY means "with difficulty or by force"

    Business people, as a whole, understand the fix we have put ourselves in. They are less certain about how to fix it. Nearly every problem we face – economy, energy, complexity, sustainability – has a parallel in nature. We can learn a lot from a natural system that has survived near-extinction, creates and thrives in complexity, is infinitely sustainable, and provides the foundations for our existence.

    At the Nature of Business, we believe that alignment with the natural order enhances our likelihood of success, satisfaction, and sustainability; conflict with the natural order enhances our chances to fail. What we know intellectually, should not be the enemy of what we know inherently.

    The pace of change we create added to the change we are called to do make for a very complex working environment. There will be more variables than we can consider. They will all be moving much faster and become more interconnected. Most will be beyond our ability to understand or control.

    What does it all mean for businesses and the people who run them? In short, it means that what brought us here won't get us there. Nearly every aspect of business (identity, strategy, leadership, and interaction) must change in order to survive (let alone thrive) in the business environment heading toward us.

    At the Nature of Business, we are dedicated to helping people and businesses make sustainable change and thrive in the complex future we face. We apply principles of nature to business problems because Nature is a model of complexity that has thrived for millions of years despite 5 near-death catastrophes, and because catastrophe number 6 will be avoided (or determined) by the type of change we are choosing right now.

    This BLOG was created to steer that change; to help guide success, satisfaction, and sustainability for individuals and organizations alike; to influence the nature of work, at a most influential time.