Natural Systems: Lessons for the Business World

I just finished reading Paul Hawken’s book – the Ecology of Commerce (a recommended read for all!)   I thought it appropriate to re-publish the following post which I originally published in November 2011 (exactly 3 months to the day!  And very closely to the hour!)  Here’s the updated post.


Back in November 2011, my husband and I spent a long weekend on Vancouver Island – arriving in Nanaimo, then driving across the island to Tofino.  We picked up some things from the Old Country Market in Coombs, better know for its goats on the roof.

One of the things we bought was Fireweed honey from the Cowichan Valley.  As I studied the honey one evening, I thought about where it comes from.  Bees make honey of course, but the original ingredient is the nectar they collect from flowers.  Producing nectar isn’t the main objective of flowers.  Their aim is to reproduce by spreading its pollen – this is achieved most effectively by pollen attaching itself to visiting bees, which in turn spread the pollen from flower to flower as they go in search of sweet nectar.  Clever.  Naturally.

What could businesses learn from this?  Businesses, like flowers, aim to grow.  Perhaps they need to think about what activity is needed for them to grow and offer something – a sweet nectar – to make it easy and natural for the activity that supports growth to happen.

Here’s another example of natural systems and the parallel that can be drawn to business.  My husband and I were walking around the beautiful, temperate rainforest in the Pacific Rim National Park, on the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino.  The ground is very acidic and only certain plants and fungi thrive in that type of soil structure.  However, these ground-hugging plants create a foundation for other plants and trees to grow.   The trees grow tall, providing shelter as well as shedding leaves or needles which in turn nurture the plant life on the rainforest floor.  It’s a cycle, a system – and it starts with the small, basic plant life and fungi.  In my work, as an impact financier, I got a lot of inquiries from young businesses and start-ups seeking small amounts of financing, generally under $200,000.  Others in the impact finance sector were frequently seeking out larger businesses, to whom they could lend or invest at least $1 million in one transaction.  However, I’m wondering – perhaps in the world of social enterprises and social purpose businesses, the large social purpose businesses – the tall trees of the sector – have not yet grown and do not yet have the foundation.  And that start-up, fledgling young social enterprises – the small plants and fungi of the sector – are the ones that need the support to flourish and prepare the land for bigger growth.  Once those businesses grow tall, they provide shelter and recycle resources so that the businesses at the ground level can thrive and continue.

As with things in nature, in business they must start small, be part of a system, and small and big entities are interconnected and must help each other.

One response to “Natural Systems: Lessons for the Business World

  1. This is a great article and comparison – I too have thought deeply about what it might mean if we could all leverage the intelligence of natural systems, in the approach to not only business, but also personal. spiritual, intuitive growth as well. I really appreciate that your approach includes the awareness, and importance of “Place” in this larger eco-system of investment and movement of conscious capital.

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