A few weeks ago, I was driving by an abandoned Ford plant in Lorain, OH. The plant, a key regional employer closed in 2005. What
struck me were the parking lots. Some of them were fields! You couldn’t even see any concrete. Others were still in the process of re-fielding. In 6 years, the force of nature was powerful enough to break through concrete and asphalt, not just in cracks made from wear and tear but also in solid concrete. Do you know how much power and strength that takes? So I thought I’d find out. Two of my ‘learnings’ really hit me:
- The Network: since plants need light and water (remember osmosis and photosynthesis?), all it takes is 1 plant sprouting up between a crack to ‘distribute’ the energy and nutrients of light and water throughout its underground root system causing others to grow and push through.
- The Chemistry: the cellulose, starch and lignin in the plant cells creates electrical charges when wet – like water (2H are +, 1O is -). The water permeates these natural polymers creating a chemical bond (hydrogen bonding) that makes the cell contents and wall swell exponentially, which creates tremendous pressure - pressure strong enough to break through concrete and asphalt.
The Network. Nature has an incredible under-on-over-ground network that I believe is indestructible – not that we can’t damage it a lot. Man has a lot of hubris to think we are powerful enough to fully destroy what existed long before us. We have a lot to learn from nature’s powerful networks. Networks increase strength, resilience, diversity, and adaptation, which facilitate growth and innovation. We can use networks to create these same traits in society, in communities and even our companies: to solve wicked problems facing our world; to tell, share and create stories that transform; even to just have fun. We need to get over our hubris of our individual power and knowledge, just like our hubris with the planet, and realize its “The Network, Stupid”. We – as companies, organizations, people - need to stop fearing the network (e.g., twitter, Facebook, etc.) and embracing it – it is a key to survival.
The Chemistry. Have you ever met someone and you just clicked? The same strength of physical chemical bonds between atoms happens between people. These can’t be commanded or coerced, they happen (or don’t) naturally. It’s the power of these bonds between people that create, sustain and grow networks. That’s why networks, which are collaborative are great at innovation – whether in sustainability or other areas. When atoms collide, they create energy and new structures. When people collide, they create energy and new ideas, solutions.
So, look at the parking lot again. What can you learn from the power of nature, from its underlying extending network and adaptive evolving chemistry? How can this apply to your company, project, initiatives and people? You don’t have to start at some grand scale. All it takes is one small stalk sticking up through a crack in the seemingly impermeable concrete (your culture?) to spread.
This is the final #RCUS – Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects post. It’s one week til BIF7, time to talk about S – Suspects. The word has a negative connotation: criminal, shady, basically no good and so does its origin. Suspect comes from the mid 14th Century Old French suspect meaning suspicious from the Latinsuspectus/suspicere meaning look up at, mistrust, suspect, look at secretly, distrustfully. The noun form’s first recorded use was in the 1590s.
Being suspicious is not always a bad thing. How many of us have been viewed suspiciously because we were challenging the status quo or not playing by the rules? If we are trying to do something new then we are suspects. As long as what we are doing is good, benefits customers (and thereby society), creates real value (and is moral and legal), then it’s just fine to be a suspect. When others regard us with that raised eyebrow, we know we’re on the right track. If you haven’t been viewed suspiciously, while you may get the big corner office, so what?
Who are the suspects in your organization? How do you treat them? How do others treat them? Perhaps its time to listen to your suspects and let them collide with others in your own organization let alone the outside world. Today’s Status Quo was once suspicious. Think of the radical troublemakers we call our Founding Fathers who created an amazing country and democracy that still shapes the world in unprecedented ways; think of Henry Ford who dared to not only obsolete the horse & buggy but also pay his people well enough to buy what they made; think Galileo, Zweig, Watson & Crick, Tesla. What are you doing to encourage your suspects, to put them (and yourself) in situations to make a #RCUS? Just try.
So, go make a #RCUS – Random, at the edge, Collisions, that create energy, of Unusual, not ordinary, Suspects, suspicious challengers of the status quo. It may be a bit scary, strange and incredibly rewarding and fun.
p.s. If you can’t make BIF-7, it will be live streaming – check the website for details!