Do Business Like an Elephant

In September 2020, I chose to escape.

I ran away from Johannesburg, COVID, crime and corruption to spend 10 days in the Kruger Park at the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative Centre. It was really an opportunity to realign and re-evaluate concepts and thoughts that I’ve had for some time. It was also an opportunity to explore and substantiate these concepts with some hard-core science.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend an Ecological Presencing workshop, where we explored how systems function. These systems ranged from ecological to social and even to personal. We saw a noticeably clear alignment of man’s organisational systems to the natural interconnectedness experienced in the bushveld.

One of my personal inner struggles has always been the concept of ‘competition’. Why does one have to win, and in so doing, deny another? Nature is not wasteful or greedy, nature conserves energy. A wonderful example of this principle can be seen in times of drought, elephants will dig a hole in a dry riverbed to get to the water below. When they move on, smaller animals are also able to use those holes to drink and survive. Everyone can enjoy the efforts of the elephants. Once they have drunk water, the elephants do not stay around to guard their holes, and they do not fill them in again, whereby no other creature would benefit thereafter. Nature inherently creates conditions conducive to life, so why does business not engage in the same way? Perhaps it boils down to how we look at it. Are we ‘in it to win it’ at any cost, or are we in it to serve, to provide, and to do something of significance?

As the person in my organisation responsible for its success, my role is to create an environment that is conducive to growth, not just for the business, but for my team members, customers and our communities. We can learn so much from nature. Like the bush, organisations can run like self-regulating organisms, balancing the delicate eco-systems of revenue generation with its broader impact.

How do we, as responsible businesses, stay aware of our impact and ensure that our actions are positive and nurturing for our employees, customers, and communities? I do not believe these are idealistic concepts. I think these are simple principals, which if adopted, could transform not only business, but our broader economies. The first step is insight, knowing and being able to see, understand and monitor what business is doing, and understanding its impact on people and the environment. By setting up strategic and co-ordinated short feedback loops, we are in a far better position to measure impact and adjust our actions quickly, with as little disruption to the business as possible. Slowly but surely, we are able to make small changes which will ultimately improve, not only how the business operates, but its legacy effect.

Like the elephant, a business can dominate its space, but it can also generate new opportunities for smaller players around it. It can give back and leave a path of growth in its wake. I came back from the experience with a renewed sense of peace and balance. In this crazy COVID changed world, it’s important to escape occasionally and put things back into perspective. Nature has thrived for centuries without one board meeting or even an RFP. Perhaps it’s time we looked at how predators and their prey live together in harmony, taking only what they need..

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