Part 2: When in nature, do as the nature do

Gus Balbontin former Executive Director and CTO of Lonely Planet posted a status on LinkedIn saying:

“I often share with audiences a simple but powerful insight from observing and experiencing business disruption over the last two decades…”momentum is the ally of efficiencies but the enemy of reinvention – momentum is efficiently deadly” – this is not only dangerous to industries and businesses but also to individuals. Be extremely careful with momentum despite the positive associations we usually assign to it.”

VPRO, a Dutch TV Channel, recently released a documentary deep diving into the tourism industry titled ‘Not so lonely planet anymore’. The documentary starts by saying

“While we’re sipping cocktails on the beach, our planet is heating up. Our travelling and insatiable thirst to fly the world and see everything… Makes tourism the world’s fastest growing industry”

This growth can be attributed to:

  • masses in China and India beginning to explore
  • social media heightening the FOMO factor in us and increasing desire to travel
  • low cost of flying
  • The hidden spots are no longer unknown as the world becomes more connected and spotlighted, giving more choice to travellers

This swarm of tourist moving around the world begs to ask, who picks up the slack we drop in destinations we visit to enjoy a carefree lifestyle?

Anna Pollack, through conscious.traveller, is trying to remodel the tourism industry through regenerative and self-organisation design. Organisations geared to succeed in the 21st century understand the need to reinvent despite the momentum it is achieving.

The material footprint of tourism growing beyond our world’s capacity. The first sign of a problem is an intrinsic or extrinsic reaction. We are starting to witness this with divers in Bali videoing more rubbish than coral reefs or fish, Amsterdam stopped marketing its city in 2014, protests against tourists in Barcelona and Dubrovnik in Croatia announce drastic limits on entry into its Old Town.

When we focus on fixing isolated symptoms we end up pushing issues down the road in time. These quick fixes are not the solution is the first step. The second is to see problems through a living system thinking approach. This way we map the ecosystem to help identify the root cause that is creating isolated reactions like above.

It is about understanding there is an imbalance in the system. In tourism case, it is about how to manage various resources to service the influx of tourists such as food. Karen Brown from the Center for Ecoliteracy recently gave a UN talk on ‘Understanding food and climate change: a systems perspective’. The image below is a snapshot from the report and gives you an idea of the questions we need to ask in order to map the system to pinpoint the root cause and its relation to the system.

Food Systems

Regenerative and self-organisation design are what I continually see as key approaches for future fit organisations. They are also a common process in nature. Giles Hutchins defines self-organisation as:

”A process from which macro-level patterns arise from micro-level interactions and behaviour in a self-organized group of individuals, the primary mode of interaction between subunits or individuals is through positive and negative feedback”

Positive feedback is enhancing or reinforcing while negative feedback is stabilizing or correcting. In other words, it is much like a swarm of social insects with no central control carrying out complex tasks through the collective duties of individuals within the colony. Their collective effort is how the group sustains itself and grows as a community. Complex problems are solved through the simple interactions of individual colony members. Decisions emerge from bottom up in flexible networks that remove the need for a single leader or hierarchy of command.

To understand self-organisation, Icosystem has developed a simulation game that aims to demonstrate:

  • Simple rules of individual behaviour can lead to surprisingly coherent system level results
  • Small changes in rules or in the way they are applied can have a significant impact on the aggregate results
  • Intuition can be a poor guide to predicting the behaviour of a complex system
  • Simulation is a powerful tool for harnessing the dynamics of complex systems

Self-organised systems can benefit from general rules that Dr Falko Dressler (Dressler, 2007) has suggested:

  1. Design local behaviour rules that achieve global properties
  2. Do not aim for perfect coordination: exploit implicit coordination
  3. Minimize long-lived state information
  4. Design protocols that adapt to changes

Regenerative and self-organisation go hand in hand with the rise of the social enterprise. Social Enterprise UK defines social enterprises as organisations that “reinvest the money they make back into their business or the local community. This allows them to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, support communities and help the environment. So when a social enterprise profits society profits.” 

David Brown, Deloitte Human Capital Leader says “Society’s expectations of business are changing. The focus is now clearly on business’ role in society as a driver of change”. 

Restructuring your organisation as a social enterprise shift the mindset of all stakeholders to a system thinking approach. Society is losing faith in public institutions to enact on our values and causes so we are seeing people increasingly want organisations to pick up the slack.

B Corps and social enterprises are moving away from maximising return for shareholders and ownership structures are changing with:

  1. Collaborative commons
  2. Crowd and open source
  3. Hybrid of private and social ownership models that generate wellbeing rather than financial returns

We are moving through a cycle of departure-separation-return from nature. It can be seen as a vital journey to maturation and individuation. As Frank lloyd Wright the famous architect said:

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you”

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