New to this series? Here’s a quick recap:
If you’re like most people, you’ve never heard the term “biomimicry” before. While it is a brand-new official field of study, biomimicry has been around for as long as mankind has existed. “Bio-” meaning life and “-mimicry” meaning the action of imitating, biomimicry is the act of consciously emulating nature’s genius in other areas of human endeavor to create conditions conducive to life. The organisms that surround us are champion species; species that have evolved successful survival strategies for the long haul. They represent an object lesson that humans would do well to understand and apply to build a better and more sustainable future.
A brand cannot exist without the hardworking individuals behind it. An organization made up of these individuals must be sustainable for longevity and to keep a brand alive. Natural ecosystems can teach us about efficiency and sustainability in large systems with intertwining components.
Lichen, a pioneer species.
Type 1 ecosystems are the babies. These typically occur where a disturbance like a fire has taken place. Pioneer species such as lichens, small annual plants, grasses and perennials spring up to take advantage of the abundant resources uncovered by the disturbance. These pioneer species use the resources as quickly as possible to produce many offspring. Species diversity is low, life cycles are short, entropy is high, and mineral cycles are open – making Type 1 ecosystems a poor model for recycling and efficiency.
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A Type 2 ecosystem is the stage between a newly formed ecosystem and a fully matured ecosystem. These form when the pioneer species of a Type 1 ecosystem die away, providing nourishment for the soil in what is called primary succession. Type 2 ecosystems contain intermediate species like grasses, shrubs, pines, young oak and woody seedlings that spend more energy on root systems and less energy on seeds.
Type 3 ecosystems are fully matured ecosystems that are considered climax communities. Masters of efficiency, these are the most successfully sustainable ecosystems that last for very long periods of time. Type 1 and Type 2 ecosystems will eventually give way to Type 3 ecosystems in what is called ecological succession.
What do ecosystems have to do with business? The Biology Online dictionary defines an ecosystem as a “system that includes all living organisms … in an area as well as its physical environment … functioning together as a unit.” And what is a business but a system of people functioning together toward a unified goal? Ultimately we want our businesses to stand the test of time, and nature teaches us how to do so.
Think of your organization as an ecosystem. Whether you’ve just begun, are in an intermediate stage, or are a fully matured business, you can benefit from setting business goals based on the attributes of a matured ecosystem in nature. Look through the mature ecosystem attributes below to determine whether you’ve hit a Type 3 ecosystem or are still in the first two stages. Notice that the attributes overlap and work together just as they do in natural and business ecosystems.
1. Mature ecosystems have high species diversity. Mature businesses have high diversity in employee disciplines, expertise and perspectives. Purposefully employing individuals with differing backgrounds and disciplines sets the stage for diversity to interact in a rich “breeding ground” of innovation.
2. Mature ecosystems have narrow niche specializations in which organisms have specific jobs in the ecosystem. Mature businesses employ individuals with specific areas of expertise so that the company as a whole can expertly produce a wide range of products and services for diverse industries.
3. Species within mature ecosystems have long and complex life cycles. Mature businesses employ practices that allow them to hold onto employees for long periods of time. Doing so enables employees to develop and grow in direct response to the business.
4. Mature ecosystems gain and use valuable information through a high level of feedback loops. Mature businesses engage in information flows with their employees and clients to receive feedback that can be acted upon to improve the system.
5. Mature ecosystems contain organisms focused on quality of reproduction as opposed to quantity of reproduction. Mature businesses place stock in the quality of their output as opposed to the quantity of their output. Quality ensures long-lasting relationships with clients.
6. Mature ecosystems have developed internal symbiosis in which organisms form cooperative relationships with each other. Mature businesses encourage cooperative teamwork from their employees. They build teams that interact to leverage each other’s strengths and create well-rounded products and services.
The attributes you’ve already accomplished should be maintenance goals. To reach the other mature attributes, set aspirational goals. Just like the champion species we find all around us, adopting the biomimicry methodology and its life-friendly principles ensures that your business will evolve successful strategies for the long haul.