Nature bats last

The final photograph in the book ‘Let my people go surfing’ (the seminal autobiography of Yvon Chouinard, the CEO of Patagonia and probably the most influential business book I’ve read) is an old rusted vehicle sitting abandoned in a field.

In the middle of the vehicle, a tree has grown through the chassis and up toward the sky, unaware of and unburdened by the steel that surrounds it. 

Business, historically, has seen itself as operating separately from society – possibly even above society. It’s (almost) understandable why: business is wealthy, polished, clever, talented and capable. And the monuments to business – the tall buildings, the planes, the events, the physical structures we’ve created – are proud artefacts that represent an impressive body of work. 

But business will not outlast nature, and business leaders will not evade eternal human truths.

There are some core truths that are playing out in business that are worth noting:

  • Humans work better when doing something meaningful
  • Energy is not infinite and people will eventually break if their energy isn’t replenished
  • Success rewards the cleverest and most excellent
  • Enduring success requires wisdom
  • Seasonality is important to pay attention to
  • Resilience relies on being comfortable with change
  • Irresponsibility eventually catches up with us
  • Good intentions outlast evil intentions
  • Performance relies on consistent refinement over time, not once-off grand gestures

The ‘rush’ of business pressure that is driven by the importance of hitting targets tempts business leaders to ignore these truths. This is understandable and encouraged for a short time: the sprint is good for businesses to build fitness. 

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we can evade or circumvent these business truths. They will eventually force a course correction. 

The conscious business leader factors these truths into their success hypothesis: into strategy; into culture; into talent management and a host of other business components. It’s far better to be on the front foot and work with the tailwind these truths provide, rather than fighting the headwinds they represent if not heeded. 

It also happens to make for a more enjoyable and rewarding experience of business if we become awake to the potential that aligning with these truths provides. 

Become fluid with nature or be obliterated by it. This applies to business as much as it applies to the rusted vehicle in the field. 

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