Living Organisms

November 7, 2019

The metaphor on living organisms is not original.

The Organizational Behavior Studies have already tried to identify the mimicry between corporative functioning and the organic dynamics of the nature or the own human body. The main thesis already widely explored by recognized authors has been on the homeostasis, that is, the search for a systemic balance by means of the interaction of different systems and flows. But is also import to search for an evolutionist look into the organizations.

The concept seems to be particularly interesting to a contemporary look on the movement of the organizational phenomena in current times.

The General Theory of Systems had origin from the studies of the Austrian biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy between years 1950 and 1960, by identifying the relations between social and natural sciences. The system mentions a set of interagents and interdependent parts that, collectively, constitute a righteous whole with defined directions and functions. Around the system, the environment is placed as a set of orbital elements that can produce changes in the state of the system.

Thus, open systems suffer interactions with the environment in which they are inserted, generating feedbacks that can be positive or negative, in a dynamics of beneficial or maleficent regenerative self-regulation by the system and its parts. On the other hand, closed systems are those that do not suffer influence, nor influence the environment around them. Certainly, organizations are opened systems, in which the internal context (departments, processes, and people) interacts with the external environment (market, politics, society, nature).

Phenomena as entropy (deterioration) versus syntony (regeneration) or as homeostasis (maintenance of the suitable balance with the environment) versus heterostasis (return to the balance after suffering the consuming of the system) help us in the evaluation of the organizational development inserted in the inexorable dynamics of the market environment.

For me, one of the main insights referring to the metaphor of living organisms take us to the study of great natural biomes  in contraposition to the agricultural monocultures. While in the last one there is productivity, asepsis and technology, in the first one prevails the unpredictability, the organic and the symbiosis. There is no natural life in the industrial plantations; there is no planning in the natural rebel biomes. Both exert different functions in the anthropocentric dynamics.

The comparison of biomes and monocultures with the organizational contexts of the XX Century seems to be interesting as an intellectual reflection concerning the challenges of the XXI Century. At some euphoric moment after Second Industrial Revolution, the humanity imagined to be possible to reproduce the mechanist principles of planning in the organizational environment, as well as in manufacturers and agriculturists environments. In fact, the productivity obtained in the manufacturer facilities was very important, making the great company the winner archetype in searching for more efficient average variable cost. In the country, the battles were more inglorious, but despite of this the battles against the imperatives of nature had not been lost, due to much pesticide and, more recently, to genetic mutations. Yet in the organizational field, it seems that the results had been more ambiguous: there had certainly been victories conquered by the large-scale operation planning, but perhaps less mechanist than the ideal imagined by the great thinkers and entrepreneurs of the end of the XIX Century.

The organizational context as an open system in fact benefited itself of certain dose of cartesian planning - and more recently of the quintillions of data scrutinized by algorithms - but remains as an opened system, permeable in certain way by the dynamics of the external environment around it. The analogy with biomes seems to offer us interesting perspective for the phenomena evaluation.

One biome possesses three main characteristics not observed altogether in the monoculture: diversity, quantity and conectivity. The diversity of the species, in immense and interdependent quantities for multiple connections is the great organic evolutionist handspike of biomes. Well, this trio should also be presented in the dynamics of the corporative contexts of great organizations. Nevertheless, the managemental impetus in favor of productivity, control and previsibility can be exactly the contrary force to the vital systemic complex to the organic evolution of the company.

In the current context of very fast transformation cycles, the external environment becomes even more hostile to the organizational open system. To be continuous and quickly adapted is not something trivial for organizations that search for its internal balance at all cost. The lack of connected diversity in quantity is becoming the great fragility of great companies in comparison to the great structured open platforms in ecosystems comprehending economic micron-agents.

The capacity of the organizational organ opposing, or adjusting itself in some symbiotic format, to the efficient innovative power of the ecosystems is already a survival question.


Daniel Motta is the Founder and CEO of BMI Blue Management Institute, a leading niche consulting firm. He is a global thought leader focused on culture, strategy and leadership. He has a PhD in Economics, MSc in Financial Economics and BA in Economics. He is also an OPMer from Harvard Business School. He is the Managing Director of USA-based VC company White Fox Capital and the Senior Tupinambá Maverick of bossa&etc. He was a co-founder of Brazilian Society of Finance. He currently serves NGO UNIBES as Strategic Planning Principal. He is the author of the best selling books Essential Leadership and book Anthesis. He also has three articles published by Harvard Business Review. He is a Board Member of MASP.