WHAT ORGANIZATIONS MIGHT LEARN FROM NATURE - Part 3
Nature abhors equilibrium, managers frantically seek it.
Life generally abhors equilibrium (energy flows as readily backward and forward) because that’s when cells become inactive and die. If nature were homogeneous we wouldn’t be here.
In a desert, when rainfall is variant--the mixture of species increases by orders of magnitude. If rainfall is constant with respect to the annual temperature cycle, the beautiful desert ecology will fall into something simpler. “It is turbulence and variance that gives the richness to nature.” (Tony Burgess cited in “Out of Control.”)
In the recent geologic past the Sahara desert was a tropical forest and has been many ecological types since. We have to learn to live with a variable environment without standardizing it. But the lesson is that all ecologies are in a state of constant flux and reinvention.
Variance is needed to enrich a system. But too much change can destroy it. Living organisms make trade-offs in deciding how much mutation and innovation is needed to adapt to a changing environment. Using quality as an example: if quality is over-standardized our ability to learn from variance in production, service, and, in healthcare, responses to therapeutic regimens, is diminished.
From an economic/organizational perspective what is desired is an adaptable infrastructure that can bend and work around and with irregular production or variance. (This is the basis for the “just in time” concept) Right now there are no industrial/economic models that are variance driven, except gambling, that I am aware of. In organizations variances are more often seen as problems rather than opportunities.
Human institutions (ecologies of human effort and aspirations) must also be in a state of constant flux and reinvention. But generally, humans are surprised and
resistant to real change. It is much harder to change an organism or organization that is stable (in equilibrium) than one in flux.
Change, not deserts, everglades, governments, or nations is eternal. Disequilibrium drives nature, but not our human social systems. Why? Among the questions to ask are:
What drives change?
How can change be directed?
Can the distributed life in loose associations as governments, large organizations, economies and ecologies be controlled in any way?
Should it be controlled?
How can disequilibrium or variance be valued?
What do you think?