I recently participated in a thought-provoking clinic put on by Tomorrow’s Company that addressed supply chain issues. There seemed to be general agreement that creating and maintaining good relationships is really important to successful supply chain management. After a while, however, one participant voiced the concern that I’m sure was on everyone’s mind: “I understand all of this relationship/group love business, but where does greed fit in?” Her point was that, yes, we all need to have these positive relationships but in the end weren’t businesses supposed to try and beat the competition?
Luckily, one need only look outside for the answer – even outside in central London. A little patch of lawn in an urban landscape hardly seems like “nature” and yet there, in that cluster of grass blades, lies the needed wisdom. Each blade of grass, crammed against several others, has exactly the same resource needs – the same amount of water and sunshine and nutrients. With limited resources to go around, these blades of grass must be in fierce competition, each greedily grabbing as much resource as possible, perhaps even expending effort to make sure it gets more than its neighbours. But look again. If competition was the dominant relationship, wouldn’t we see a few really tall blades of grass within a field of shrunken and shrivelled neighbours? Clearly, when it comes to grass, there is strength in numbers. Collaboration among the blades of grass is key to their survival – and to the loveliness of our patch of lawn. So what’s going on?
Nature’s answer to the woman’s question is “Yes, businesses need to compete AND they need to collaborate.” Each organism can have a multiplicity of dynamic relationships with other organisms in its ecosystem. Each organism must look out for its own survival (exhibit greed) while also looking out for the survival of its family, its species, and its ecosystem. You understand and respond to this intuitively every day when you work to support your team or department or company while also competing with your colleagues. The same concept can extend to your supply chain. Maintaining and optimizing myriad dynamic relationships that benefit the system while benefiting yourself is one principle practiced by Business Shaped by Nature.