Inertia is the Illness
3.8 Billion Years of Learnings
Bumblebees have built a home outside my son’s window. A mouse brazenly forages for food on our patio. An orange chaffinch has claimed his spot on the neighbourhood trellises. During these times when we are reminded of the fragility of human life, Mother Nature has never looked more resilient.
As business leaders, we crave resilience. We seek insights from the greatest leaders who’ve come before us, each with immense wisdom on how to endure. But in “business-speak”, we often see the same vernacular of inspiration drawn from the lessons of war.
However, this is the time to get back to learning from the most well-run, most-disciplined organisation in the universe. The one organisation which has survived the Stock Market crash of 1929, the Dotcom crash of 2001, and Lehman in 2008. The organisation which has navigated the hardships of The Great Plague, Black Death, SARS, and now COVID-19. The one that’s been thriving for 3.8 billion years.
Given that we each are CPU circuits belonging to the same motherboard, the organising principles of Mother Nature are universal. The learnings from the most well-designed organisation for yours are timeless. So, here are three guiding principles from Mother Nature herself:
- Better will outlast bigger
- Collaboration will chill competition
- Inertia is the illness, as it equals death
Better will outlast bigger
Without doubt, growth is one of the most important outputs of a successful organisation. However, business leaders who make the pursuit of scale their primary input will find themselves tempted down an unfruitful quest to standardise, replicate, and industrialise the lowest common denominator. As Warren Buffet said, “Games are won by players who focus on the field, not the ones looking at the scoreboard.”
It’s no surprise that the most resilient species in nature isn’t the biggest. It is the micro-animal called the Tardigrade, known for the powerful magic protein in its DNA which allows it to cope with extreme changes in water temperature and radiation. When it comes to adapting, it’s not bigger, but it is better.
So how can we be better?
The customer experience.
The one stock that’s exceeded the tremendous success of Apple, Google, and Amazon may surprise you. It’s Domino’s Pizza. $100 invested in 2004 would now reap you $5,410 – a whopping return almost double that of Alphabet. Domino’s didn’t achieve this extraordinary success by rapidly expanding the scale of their product line or opening a swath of new franchises. They obsessed the customer experience, asking, “How can we make it even simpler? More accessible? More personalised? More delightful?” The “Anytime, Anywhere” initiative presents 15 ways to order, regardless of device, pre-set to your preferences. Whether you want to order via text, emoji, voice, TV, in-car, live-cam, messenger, GPS, app, chat, Facebook, Echo, Slack, one-click or no-click, your pizza is on its way. Beautifully simple. Beautifully better.
Collaboration will chill competition
We learn from Mother Nature that we’re all part of the same interconnected ecosystem built upon symbiotic partnerships, feedback loops, and contagious transfers of energy. In business, it’s no surprise that the global economy of today mirrors this.
To illustrate, let’s recall the rise of the various search engine companies in the 1990s to Google’s dominance in the 2000s. After Google gained preeminent share, Google then began to extend its vines to grab a stronger share of “sunlight” in travel. Expedia then bought two of its rivals, Orbitz and Travelocity, to maintain its share of sunlight. This then impacted Marriott, who bought Starwood Hotels to retain its share. Behaviour in organisations is contagious because of the vast interdependency we have today.
In this environment, organisations that can collaborate and connect will thrive. The destructive forces of competition will, for a moment, chill.
So how can we better collaborate?
Make the web.
Look no further than the success of Grab in Singapore and Meituan Dianping in China. Powerful, rising transactional super-apps that connect your ride-sharing experience with your coffee shop, restaurant, cinema, banking, shopping, or food-delivery experience. 350 million people served, 2.8 billion transactions.
Grab and Meituan aren’t winning because they are battling against the mighty trees standing in the forest; they are becoming the interconnected web of life in the soil beneath our feet. Without them, the ecosystem shuts down. And as we’ve seen in the rise of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Uber, those who can become the infrastructure become indispensable.
Inertia is the illness, as it equals death
If energy flow equals life, then inertia equals death.
Without consistent love and care, entropy will take hold. Newton’s First Law of Motion teaches us that nothing will ever move without a positive force. In business, for momentum to form, we need our positive spark.
So how can we be break inertia?
This speaks for itself.
Experiment, act quickly, and empower.
Those that best adapt will retain their resilience for the long-term. Minecraft’s lightning-fast adaptation of its platform for societal good is a prime example. AKQA, in partnership with Heart17 and the UNDP, worked with Minecraft to create Blockdown: a Minecraft simulator map where players work in an infected village, combat a Zombie pandemic, and learn the social measures to mitigate its spread while managing health care constraints inside an ICU – turning 120 million monthly active players into a creative force for good.
Our lives are short. Mother Nature’s is not.
We have a lot we can learn. Organisations that focus on being better, not bigger; which collaborate more than they compete; and which break inertia will be those that prosper for generations to come in the constant renewal of life.