I ask you to bear with me today  as I utilize a bit of business terminology and concepts to help convey a notion about our Earth, and to get us thinking a bit differently.

As we know, people tend to organize themselves in ways that will help them to prosper in whatever endeavor they have identified as their goal: committees to plan or tackle a problem, a corporation, a baseball team, a dance company. Families have organizational structures too, typically with one or more adults serving as the “head” and the other members following their lead and direction (well, one can at least hope). We organize ourselves because it has proven effective over time. We’ve all worked in various “organizational structures.”

Nature also organizes itself. Alpha males. Queen bees and workers. Midwife whales who help take care of the newborn calf as the cow recovers from giving birth.

I’ve worked for over 30 years in a number of professional settings, from nonprofit organizations to for-profit companies to institutes of higher learning. Each had an organizational structure designed to most efficiently move the entity forward in fulfilling its mission. All had some form of hierarchical structure, although they differed widely—and I’ve generally occupied most positions in the hierarchy from the bottom to the top. At its essence, basic organizational structure is meant to fulfill an organization’s mission by balancing deep specialization (specific areas that focus on one task) and coordination (making sure all the different areas are working in concert with one another).

Through the years, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work in terms of mission fulfillment when it comes to organizational structure, as I’m sure you have. And with the majority of those years working within the University of Illinois at a leading performing arts center—alongside some of the world’s most innovative and skilled artists, scientists, technologists, and humanists—I was not only able to witness and glean processes for innovation and breakthrough knowledge, but to experience the effectiveness (and often dysfunction) of a completely decentralized organizational structure that is typical of universities. Interesting and enlightening experiences.

It became clear to me through the years that the exact design of the organizational structure is less important than the organization’s full embrace of the mission along with one absolute value: a true belief that every member of the organization held unique and critical value and without whom the organization could not fully prosper. Quite simply, an organization is more effective when all members of the system are truly valued for their unique contribution, and no decision is made without considering the effect of that decision on every member.

By now, you probably suspect where I’m going with this.

So, if we were to think of the Earth (and its entire ecosystem) as an organization, what is our mission? Does the Earth have a mission and/or does the human species have a mission? What organizational structure are we using to fulfill that mission? Do we all agree on the same mission? Does our mission need updating? Just as Galileo figured out we weren’t at the center of the universe, perhaps we are ready to re-examine our widely held beliefs and adjust accordingly.

Clearly, the immense complexity of our world are hard to simplify using this hypothetical exercise, but it does provide a framework that helps push us beyond our typical myopic and everyday thinking. So I ask you to humor me, and give those questions some thought. Like Galileo, let’s re-examine our long and widely held beliefs and see if a truth emerges that we’ve been missing.

Next time we’ll explore a bit further and see if this exercise might help us to imagine how we can create a more sustainable world.

Until then, spend wisely and kindly. Be ecofluent.

 

About the Author:

Ecofluent Founder and President

Rebecca brings over 30 years of experience in strategic planning, management, and marketing to the organization, most recently as Senior Associate Director of the University of Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Throughout her life, she has felt an inherent and spiritual connection with the natural world, and a compelling desire to re-examine the relationship between humankind and our environment. After earning her MBA from the University of Illinois, she began a personal exploration of the writings and teachings surrounding environmental science, environmental sociology, environmental ethics and related fields. Those studies, combined with her lifelong interest in sustainability were catalyzed into action by a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2005 (she is currently cancer-free), and in 2008, 4 Osprey—an organization designed to promote the acceptance of an ecocentric value system—was born.

 

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