On my Mind
I’ve been thinking about fabric this week, about how our different individual identities and capabilities weave together to create something beautiful and generative with an identity all of its own.
I find metaphor helps. It may not be clinically accurate, and that’s the power of it. Metaphor leaves openings and makes connections that the certainty of precision can often exclude.
When we create fabric, the warp is held longitudinally in tension, and the weft is then woven through it horizontally. Together, warp and weft combine function with form. Our societies and organisations are similar, with the warp being the institutions, expertise, legal structures that provide the tension, and the weft, or, as it called in North America, the fill, holds them together and creates the pattern and identity. If I may stretch the metaphor further, the warp provides the body and the weft the soul.
On that basis, we have warped organisations. We put all our attention into institutions and processes and the symbolic body whilst paying much less attention to the weft, the poetry, colour, texture and pattern that humanity brings. We end up with dull and weak fabric good only for the fast fashion of short term earnings.
We still know very little about mycelium, those networks that link everything that grows in the soil and moderate the health of all it connects. It is neither plant nor animal but something in between, a sort of weft going through the warp of the plants it connects and often controls. Rather like the importance of our humanity to business, it has been taken for granted for a very long time.
Mycelium is very sensitive to its environment, and pollution can kill individual species. Its answer is to adapt and delegate to other species as a substitute whilst it recovers. I think our mindless pursuit of efficiency in business does the same to our social structures.
Mycelium occupies huge areas – the most prominent web we know in Oregon is 2,400 years old and covers over 2000 acres. We are only beginning to understand something of its power and complexity, and we are still confused. The good news is that we know we’re confused, and the comparison to the importance of humanity in business is not a big jump to make, in my view.
On to the last of my metaphors for today. Beauty is not a term that is often used in business, although thanks to the work of people like Alan Moore, it is finding its place. It is common sense really and has been a foundation stone of creative thinking since before philosophy became a topic. I won’t go into it here, as Alan’s work does it more justice than I can here. In his book “Do Build“, he asks thirteen important questions that should make us all stop and think. I’ve asked them of people I work with, and they never fail.
Fabric only becomes beautiful when we make it with love, and the ancient forest we walk through owes its beauty to the work of mycelium. Making business ugly when it can be beautiful is work for barbarians.
As we feel our way out of the pandemic, we have a chance to reflect and think about what business has become and what it might be.
As individuals, we are weft and mycelium, and we can change things for the better.
Books that have influenced me this week
Books that extend our thinking horizons beyond next years targets.
Do Build. Alan Moore. I have already mentioned this above. I suggest you also have a look at Do Design. It sits wonderfully alongside Do Build, and together they will change the way you look at business.
The Hidden Life of Trees. Peter Wohlleben. A wonderful and insightful short book that will change the way you think about trees. I read it following up on another metaphor rich book, Entangled Life by Merlyn Sheldrake. Between them, they offer enough insight and metaphor to change the way you think about what we’re doing to the planet without shouting at you.
Soil, Soul, Society. Satish Kumar. A book of powerful metaphor and practical action.
Mycelium. A short and interesting overview from Scientific American. A good intro,
What’s going on with this human? Kwame Appiah suggests that “in life, the challenge is not so much to figure out how best to play the game; the challenge is to figure out what game you’re playing.” This is Graham Duncan’s view.
When we choose, it’s what we leave out that is important.
The verb decide has deadly interesting origins. Though it came through Middle English deciden, Old French decider, and Latin decidere, you can tell that there’s the prefix de-, kind of meaning “off”. This was in the language as far as etymologists can trace it, and is either from Etruscan or Proto-Indo-European. It’s the other part of decide that’s surprising: -cide. Yup, as you may have guessed, this is the same -cide present in words like homicide, suicide, regicide, fratricide, genocide, and all those other euphemistic terms for nasty kinds of death. All the roots trace to the Latin verb caedere, meaning “to cut”. The death-related words are connected because of the correlation between “cut” and “kill”, a side meaning which later evolved from the word, and decide is connected because when you make a choice, you cut out all the other possible choices. So it sort of makes sense, right? Caedere comes from Proto-Italic kaido, from Proto-Indo-European kehid, which meant something more like “strike”.
From the Etymology Nerd
And a quote
Relax. Go for a walk in the woods. Have a great week.