Learning from nature for business??


sometimes reading the magazines which are placed on your seat in an airplane. I don't think on the Playboy you can find on board of certain airlines Big Grin...

Lufthansa has this "Exclusive" magazine and I found a quite interesting article in it. It is called "Evolutionsmanagent" and talks about how business can learn from typical evolutionary processes within nature.

There are some compelling anti-arguments in there (the bold sentences). I will try to reflect this on a company called Microsoft...

  1. Business can only work with growth: This is nice because really most businesses are rallying to grow by all circumstances. But - as a matter of fact - decline or even dead of certain areas. Microsoft for example was once very famous on selling DOS. As matter of fact you can still by MS-DOS in certain areas but there has been cut. There lots of other example of declining or even dying products or business models. In my opinion if you are running a business more than 5 years you will certainly make contact to areas of decline. The art in this is to at least survive or even continue to prosper because of you being smart and agile enough to jump on new areas of business.
  2. The fast will beat the slow: My colleague Steffen Weh always repeats "the game has 90 minutes and the bill comes at the end". This is certainly true. In the Microsoft example we entered the market of game consoles later then others did. Some said we will fail, some said we will take it all. Neither did happen. I think it is matter of continuous interest and continuous investments. Be smart and stop investing when it has no future but don't stop when the first hard hit comes in your face. Regarding nature as an example: Human beings have been successful in exploring areas of land by hunting and collecting whatever nature provided. When this areas were exhausted they moved on. But really successful were those guys settling, planting crops and really improving the area. This certainly takes a bit longer and some time of investment but paid out in the end.
  3. "Fish stinks from the head": This sentence presents the idea of mostly the management (or the head) is responsible for a bad situation. First of all a fish starts stinking only when it is dead. Management is key and as I blogged quite some time in the past at this company we started an initiative which is called Management Excellence. While management is important the whole company itself must be agile. Once again taking Microsoft: We have to change at least parts of our business model fundamentally. The idea of Software + Services will require some muscles (especially in the "+ Services") which we are building up today. 
  4. "Concentrate on your core business": This is certainly true in some areas. Specialization has been key in industrialization and enabled the economy as we know it today. But on the other hand if you rally down only one road be sure it is the right one. For Microsoft the decision was done to focus on software which is certainly a wide area. Within that area there will be nothing which by default Microsoft will not at least try. There are certainly enough niches that are very unlikely to be visited by Microsoft. But starting from Robotics to High Performance Computing, Mobile and Entertainment, you name it. This diversity costs a lot of energy but helps to be agile enough not to miss something and even survive starvation in important areas.
  5. "For managers there are no crisis’s only challenges": Sorry but we all know that there situations one could only call a crisis. This is normal and not bad at all. All organisms are prepared to survive within a crisis by taking sometimes extreme steps. It is a modern habit to expect people to stay "cool" within a crisis. But what is if people "panic"? If you panic you fall back to an extreme mode of operation. Things happen very quickly and you switch to autopilot to end this threatening situation by any means. So panic in itself is helpful but the organism has to be trained to fly the right path in autopilot-mode. So be prepared for panic situations, don't neglect them just to be "cool".
  6. "Corporations are not there to provide jobs": At Microsoft we have this People-Ready Business mantra. While I still think we are not doing the best job in getting the idea behind that into the minds of the people the idea behind it is great. Businesses are like organisms in a sense and people are the cells of those organisms. If this organism is part of an evolutionary process its final goal is to live and survive over time. Than it is the size of the organism or the number of people working for the company. To have the right people in the right mixture (all higher organisms have specialized cells which differ extremely from one another) is key. Revenue is necessary for the survival of this body but it is a subordinate goal.
  7. "Success in the market is realized by growing complexity": In nature it is certainly true that higher forms of organisms are successful. But the most stable creatures (over time) are very simple forms like bacteria. So simple concepts might limit the final size of a company but not their overall success. As a result fighting everyday on simplification to save costs and resources should be a good habit.
  8. "Emotions are wrong in business live": Being an emotional guy myself I really think emotions are good in business. It all depends on the right dose. During the evolution human beings have learned that rationale decisions are harder to get and cost a lot of "brain-power" (e.g. more energy, more time etc.) We have developed some kind of short cut which we call "gut feeling". Most of the time it is simply right otherwise we would soon start to neglect it.
  9. "To survive in the market you got to be the best": We all know that not only the best of a kind survive. Certainly the worst starve. So the goal must be to become one of the best but not to all circumstances. More than the half of the organic mass on this planet lives in cooperation with others. Especially higher organisms.
  10. "The bigger a company is, the more success it has": Define success first! We have to accept that there natural barriers regarding growth in certain areas. Big companies tend to become slower in adopting new movements. So the size itself is of no value. The optimum certainly lies in the middle.    

All in all I found these ideas described in the article very compelling. It certainly defines the major goal differently. If you ask today’s CEOs what is the indicator of a successful corporation revenue is the answer. In this article there are two indicators: Prosperity and survival. This results in a different view regarding size for example or how to treat people and jobs.

I will buy the book and do some more thinking on that...