The idea of a chain reinforces our sense of entitlement, but does not reflect how the natural world actually works. The notion of a “supply chain” with raw materials at one end and waste at the other is a destructive human fiction. Same goes for the notion of a hierarchical “food chain” with hungry humans at the top. Nature is comprised of networks and their interconnected nodes, which continually create, exchange, and repurpose resources. We are one node a vast web of interdependency. We rely on a vast web of photosynthesizers, pollinators, ecosystem engineers, and decomposers, and they rely on us. If the web is compromised, all nodes are affected.
Wholes Not Parts
The leveraging of individual, mechanical parts drives the industrial mind, but it does little to reflect how natural systems actually operate. Nature, including us, is comprised of wholes nested within larger wholes; from cells, to organisms, to communities, to ecosystems, to our wider planet. Nested wholes, including ourselves and the organizations and entities we create, cannot effectively be separated and manipulated in isolation. Considering how one decision affects a whole community, a whole landscape, a whole species, or a whole generation shifts the dialogue away from short term extraction and toward long term value creation.
Better Not Bigger
Growth has consequences. Growth for its own sake - without regard for its impact - results in rampant, invasive energy extraction. (Unimpeded, unchecked growth in our own bodies manifests as metastatic cancer.) Constructive growth in nature ensures that an organism gets better as it gets bigger: better at collaboration in an increasingly complex system. A growing tree does not overtake a landscape. Its growth provides more for its community - more shelter, more shade and more nutrients for surrounding species. Human organizations can also have positive, generative impact if growth is planned and managed properly.
Manage Not Make
The notion of “making” implies that physical objects are manufactured out of a warehouse filled with infinite building material, without regard for our planet’s finite resources. This is a fiction. In the natural world, energy and materials are continually repurposed through the cycle of birth, life, death, decay, and back to life again. That’s why nature doesn’t “make from scratch” … nature manages the resources upon which we all depend. As “managers” rather than “makers,” we have the potential to reconsider and optimize the flow of resources within our organizations, our designs, and our decisions so that energy and materials flow with efficiency, and within appropriate limits.
For Not Against
Mutualism is the building block of ecological function. Relationships in nature can be distilled into a five categories: “win-win,” “win-lose,’ “win-neutral,” “neutral-neutral,” and “lose-lose.,” “Lose-lose,” otherwise known as competition, is the least common. “Win-win,” or mutualism, is everywhere, even between predators and prey. Survival of the fittest is not about being fierce, it is about one’s ability to “fit in” and co-create value. When human enterprise shifts its focus from winning at all costs, to facilitating mutual “win-wins,” abundance can emerge, not only fiscally, but ecologically and socially.
Care Not Control
Most ecologists will say that “nature doesn’t care.” Nature doesn’t value, nature doesn’t feel, nature doesn’t grieve, nature doesn’t love. This may be an appropriate scientific position (although we now know that several species grieve.) But we can say that evolution, the process of co-mingling genetic information and testing for what thrives, seems to bend toward complexity over simplicity, toward diversity over hierarchy, toward collaboration over competition. If we are to fit in for the long haul, human endeavors must shift from a command and control relationship with nature to one informed, intelligent contribution and care.