Welcome back to the final part of my four-part conversation with Maritha Erasmus, CEO of Managing Transformation Solutions (Pty) Ltd, who are based in South Africa. MTS specialise in guiding business leaders through critical sustainability decisions, and what I originally thought was going to be a relatively localised discussion with Maritha ended up covering a lot of very involved ground about education, leadership, and legacy.
I wanted to end this series by giving the floor completely over to Maritha, so she could tell us about the recent trip she took to Kruger National Park. Please don’t think this is going off-topic into ‘what I did on my holidays’ territory! Maritha visited Kruger for very important, and very specific, professional and personal reasons. What she discovered not only gave her a fresh professional perspective; it also underlined how crucial it is to take a step back and open our eyes to the natural world around us, so that we can find more organic, effective and sustainable ways to solve the problems – in all aspects of our life – that we’re working to address.
Maritha Erasmus: In September 2020, I was lucky enough to spend ten days in Kruger National Park (KNP) at the Skukuza Science Leadership Initiative Centre, attending an Ecological Presencing Workshop and Biomimicry introduction course including an overview of systems thinking.
Not only was the event a very welcome escape from the pressures of my desk, the conversations in my head, and the dominating 3 C’s of all the news headlines - Corruption, Crime and COVID. Much more importantly, it was a chance to realign and re-evaluate business concepts that I’d had for quite some time, as well as an opportunity to explore and substantiate these concepts with some hard-core science.
Throughout the 10 days I spent at the KNP, we explored how systems function, and those systems ranged from ecological to social and even to personal. We saw a noticeably clear alignment of man’s organisational systems to the natural interconnectedness experienced in the bushveld.
One of my personal inner struggles has always been the concept of ‘competition’.
Why does one have to win and, in doing so, deny another?
Nature is not wasteful or greedy. Nature conserves energy.
A wonderful example of this principle can be seen in times of drought; elephants will dig a hole in a dry riverbed to get to the water below. When they move on, smaller animals are also able to use those holes to drink and survive. Everyone can enjoy the efforts of the elephants. Once they have drunk water, the elephants do not stay around to guard their holes, and they do not fill them in again, whereby no other creature would benefit thereafter.
Nature inherently creates conditions conducive to life, so why does business not engage in the same way? Perhaps it boils down to how we look at it. Are we ‘in it to win it’ at any cost, or are we in it to serve, to provide, and to do something of significance? As the person in my organisation responsible for its success, my role is to create an environment that is conducive to growth, not just for the business, but for my team members, customers and our communities. We can learn so much from nature. Like the bush, organisations can run like self-regulating organisms, balancing the delicate eco-systems of revenue generation with its broader impact.
How do we, as responsible businesses, stay aware of our impact and ensure that our actions are positive and nurturing for our employees, customers, and communities?
I do not believe these are idealistic concepts. I think these are simple principles which, if adopted, could transform not only business, but our broader economies.
The first step is insight, knowing and being able to see, understand and monitor what business is doing, and understanding its impact on people and the environment. By setting up strategic and co-ordinated short feedback loops, we are in a far better position to measure impact and adjust our actions quickly, with as little disruption to the business as possible. Slowly but surely, we are able to make changes which will ultimately improve, not only how the business operates, but its legacy effect.
Like the elephant, a business can dominate its space, but it can also generate new opportunities for smaller players around it.
It can give back and leave a path of growth in its wake.
I returned from my experience at Kruger with a renewed sense of peace and balance. In this crazy COVID changed world, it’s important to escape occasionally and put things back into perspective. Nature has thrived for centuries without one board meeting or even an RFP. Perhaps it’s time we looked much closer to nature to see how different ecosystems create harmony and support life through their inter-connectedness.
Maybe we should all do business like an elephant.
- Take time to remove yourself from the comfortable environment you are used to and explore, re-evaluate and realign.
- Nature is not wasteful or greedy. Nature conserves energy.
- Eco-systems are delicate balances, creating environments conducive to growth are equally delicate.
- Listen, understand, monitor and create feedback loops to connect you to the true impact of your work.
- Wedge open the door of opportunity so others can benefit from the world you're creating.
What does the future look like?
- People will increasingly become more educated about the impacts of their day to day choices on the environment, the social landscape and the wider political and economic systems.
- Companies will switch from the technical ideology of artificial intelligence to a biomimicry ideology of artificial intelligence, to replicate the real-world conditions in order to give context.
- Energy is expensive to waste metabolically, the same in industry and in business, companies who waste less and spend wisely will begin to outperform their counterparts.
- Competition will increasingly be uncovered as predatory in nature and short-lived, collaboration harbours long-term growth creating more opportunities.