The analogy here is from my son’s aquarium. Whenever you have a fish tank at home, you’ll notice that in the first month it looks beautiful and it starts looking really horrible after that. Every single month the tank has to be cleaned. As my son outgrew the tank in the house, he started using small aluminium basins to put the fish in and put them outside. The learning was that these little basins did not need that extensive cleaning that the tank required. When we extend this to the wilderness and the rivers, we see that there is no need for any cleaning unless us humans have messed the river up.
Each of these have their own eco-systems. Starting with the fish tank which is more akin to us people putting in our efforts to maintain it on regular basis. Then you have the aluminium basins which is slightly easier maintenance and finally the natural environment where the eco-system runs itself.
In each of these you’ll find that fish thrive. However, when you look at it from the perspective of effort that needs to be put in, just as in organizations managers and leaders have to do, to make sure the organization thrives and the employees are able to be productive, this becomes an excellent analogy to show what an effective eco-system really is. All three of them have their own eco-systems. It’s just that they have different levels of intervention.
This provides a learning. The tank inside the home is a controlled one where growth is only possible when externally provided. Whereas in the natural eco-system growth occurs with a purpose for that eco-system.
From an organizational perspective the learning here is that one has to accept the fact that one can’t control everything. By allowing people to do what they need to do and digressing here to add that as human beings we instinctively know what to do, there will be mistakes yet there will be progress and growth. It comes about from that same instinct whereas people we want to succeed.
When we accept that things will occur and it might not be exactly in the way, as a leader, one had foreseen it and yet it’s on objective then we begin to understand and create a natural ecosystem.
Whenever people speak of eco-systems there’s a misperception of that vis-a-vis culture. An organizational eco-system is a bit more than culture. Culture is the people piece and around it comes all the other components of skill, structure. If one is fiddling with anyone of these, one has to look at the effect on all components and take those into account. Our habit is to look at one thing and see if we can fix that. However, as an organizational eco-system its all interconnect and inter-related and it’s not about fixing one thing but the sum of it all.
An eco-system is not just the people. It’s also the processes, systems, structure. All of these things together make up the eco-system. In an organization when we speak of an eco-system, lots of people put a humongous amount of effort into creating a right culture. And there is nothing such like a right culture. That becomes the problem. If a culture suits the organization based on its context, there will be systems, processes and people that suit the organization. Usually, we make this mistake of seeing someone else’s eco-system and think that’s working great there and will work equally well too.