“Death is nature’s way of making things continually inter- esting. Death is the possibility of change. Every individual gets its allotted lifespan, its chance to try something new on the world. But time is called and the molecules which make up leaf and limb, heart and eye are disassembled and redistributed to other tenants.”Peter Steinhart, The Company of Wolves
[The following is a concept adapted from my new book: “Undisruptable“, also available in a highly-engaging workshop. We decided to launch the book at Easter for a specific reason that will soon become obvious.]
Just outside the bay window of my house lies a beautiful row of hydrangeas. Just after Christmas, a non-gardening neighbour quipped that the plants were dead and I should get some replacements. His words marinated over the past while, because I see this as a burgeoning problem in society and organisations alike. We tend to forget that everything has a life cycle and what appears to be the end is just the start of a new beginning.
In Western traditions, we think of time in terms of past, present and future. The arrow of time moves from left to right: we are born, we live, we die. By contrast, Eastern philosophies view time as cyclical, everything is forever evolving. For many ancient cultures, there is only one term to describe both the very deep past and the far distant future. This suggests that they see time as part of one cycle: a cyclical metamorphosis of the past into the future. This perception of time is core to the permanent reinvention mindset, which I discuss in Undisruptable. When we visualise time as a series of cycles, we reframe past experiences as fuel for the future, setbacks as lessons and sunk costs as learning costs.
Using cyclical time as a lens helps us to reframe a variety of phenomena. A career can be in the equivalent of spring as you embark on a new one or in winter as you end another. Relationships may spend some time in autumn or winter. When you have children, they become the focus of your energy, they become your spring. Just because your relationship may experience an autumn does not mean it is over, it is just at a different stage of its perpetual life cycle. This can be difficult to fathom if you see your relationship as linear. When you reframe your relationship as cyclical, you realise, things will come back to normal if you are patient and continue to nurture them through the difficult times.
Many animals hibernate to survive the harsh conditions of winter. A bear needs to eat enough during the fall in order to survive a hibernation-like state called “torpor” during the cold, winter months. In fact, bears go through a physiological change called “hyperphagia” at this time, causing them to eat nonstop, even up to twenty-four hours straight, before sleeping for four and then gorging themselves again, sometimes only eating the fat-rich eggs, skin and brain of salmon. In this way, they can take in on the order of a hundred thousand calories a day and gain the hundreds of extra pounds needed to survive their winter slumber.
So what has this got to do with my hydrangeas?
Deadheading is a process of removing withered blooms from plants such as hydrangeas. Deadheading benefits the plant by diverting energy to other parts of the plant when the bloom is spent. While this is something a good gardener does on an ongoing basis, there is a very strong caveat when deadheading: you must pay attention to the moment in the lifecycle of the plant.
If I was to consider the plant as “spent”, as my neighbour did and remove the withered bloom in winter, I would do more harm than good. Deadheading hydrangeas in winter is not a good idea. The plant’s buds for the following spring’s blooms grow just below the old dead blossoms. When we leave them in place, we provide the buds with good protection from the harsh winter elements.
The process of deadheading and hibernation provide beautiful metaphors for organisational and personal renewal.
Deadheading Business Models
The bear and the hydrangea innately understand there is a period of renewal every year. All mammals have the same hormonal mechanism for detecting a change of season. Humans have lost touch with this natural detection system. We certainly forget to hone this skill in business environments and often in life.
Think of your organisation or business model or even your career as a living entity. Depending on the environment, the eco-system and your appetite for change, we should embrace periods of regular renewal. In doing so, we must pay attention to the transition periods from one state to another, just like one season transitions to the next. With this in mind, the old plays a noble role in enabling the new, just like the withered head protects the emergent bud.
In a similar sense, a legacy organisation must protect an emergent business model or budding concept during its fragile emergent state. But there is a further important point still.
Just as the bear stocks up on calories when the salmon stocks are high, an organisation must invest in new business models and innovation when business stock margins are high. In “Undisruptable“, I quote the Spartan mantra, “The more you sweat in times of peace, the less you bleed in war.” In a similar vein, when an organisation invests in its future while enjoying current success, it will be more tolerant of the inevitable failures that come with experimentation.
The problem we experience is an age-old one. We become blinded by success, we are defeated by victory and we fail to invest in our futures when we have adequate resources to do it best. We often act only when we encounter a crisis, a job loss or a sudden disruption.
In addition, we quickly dismiss the emergent when we compare it to the mature. By comparing the magnificence of a hydrangea in full bloom to a budding period of renewal, we miss a key principle of life itself. The withered bloom is simply an arrested moment in a dynamic process of growth. When we react by lopping off an old head prematurely, we kill future growth and we stifle future potential.
Peter Drucker had it right when he said, “The new always looks so puny-so unpromising-next to the reality of the massive, ongoing business.”
The spring equinox (March 20th) marked the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the first day of Autumn in the South. For all of us, spring signifies reinvention, renewal and regeneration. As we emerge from the pandemic and from winter, “Spring cleaning” offers us an opportunity to clean out old mental models and business models that no longer serve us.
How can you help make sure your team doesn’t get stuck in a rut?
How can you encourage people to discover new things, even those that seem to be disconnected to their day jobs?
How can you awaken to opportunities and threats that sneak up on even the most successful of us?
These questions inspired me to create this workshop.
“The Permanent Reinvention” virtual workshop is now available, based on my forthcoming book, “Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations and Life.”
It is a workshop that explores the biases and cognitive traps that prevent us from making our best decisions in business and every other aspect of life.
Feedback has been phenomenal and it is fun and transformational for teams in an age of hiring workshops and Zoom fatigue.
“Come for the evocative metaphors and stories. Stay for the powerful frameworks and practical guidance. Undisruptable is a useful guide to thriving in today’s era of constant change. Highly recommended.”Scott D. Anthony
My book “Undisruptable” is available now: