Our lives are made up of multiple social systems: families, marriages, work, businesses, corporations, churches, friendship circles, clubs. Like the natural world, these are all ecosystems where everything is inter-related and therefore everything is impacted by the other.
There was a fascinating and insightful Linkedin article this week that used examples from nature to describe effective ways we humans can live within our social ecosystems (see “4 Bio-Inspired Tips to Create Better Teams” by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO). Several of his biology illustrations particularly stood out for me as I work with people and groups in guiding them to a more strengths-based way of living and being. Here’s one of them.
Biologists are finding that
“successful organisms tend to collaborate more than compete.”
Birch Trees and Rhododendrons. For example, birch trees and rhododendrons grow close by each other in the woods, not by accident but for specific purpose. “The birch provides shade to the rhododendron, keeping it from drying out. The rhododendron, in turn, provides the birch with defensive molecules that protect it from being eaten by insects. This symbiotic relationship allows both to survive longer.”
A Win-Lose World. It’s amazing how competitive our human social systems so often are. We’ve developed this win-lose paradigm: if I win, someone else has to lose; if someone else wins, that means I automatically lose.
So in this win-lose ecosystem, we end up having to protect ourselves all the time. Our walls are up. Our distrust is high. We’re ready to fight to win. Because at stake is our own survival–there’s only one winner.
Our conversations devolve into arguments where we all try to win. If we don’t, we feel less than; we’ve been bested; we’re losers. So we have to win at all costs.
If a friend gets promoted, we feel like we’ve lost something. If our significant other gets recognition, we feel like we’ve lost, we’re diminished. If someone else’s child gets into the best school and our’s doesn’t, we’ve lost, they’ve won. We’re less than, they’re more.
A Win-Win World. But imagine if we could live within our social ecosystems like the birch trees and the rhododendrons–in collaboration where there’s a win-win belief and goal and worldview; where we come to each other bringing our best strengths to the system; where we each are contributing our best to each other; where we each embrace and trust the best from each other; where we stay with it long enough to work at developing a win-win outcome, refusing to take the win-lose easy way out.
A Strengths-based Approach. Imagine collaborative marriage relationships where each situation, need, and goal is approached via both spouse’s top strengths. When a problem is being addressed, you ask your spouse for a “10 minute consult” where he/she uses his/her specific strengths (one or several that you might not have) in order to help bring effective resolution. Rather than competing, you collaborate; where you approach the relationship and experience mutually instead of hierarchically. Imagine that.
Imagine developing your specific roles based upon your strengths profile, whether in a marriage, family, work team, congregation; where everyone is asked, encouraged, validated, and affirmed to show up with their best; where people spend more time and energy focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses and deficiencies; where whatever gaps might exist in the relationship, they are overcome with each person leveraging his/her strengths together to effectively overwhelm the gap.
The genius of a strengths-based approach to life is that it’s based upon the truth that no one of us is omnicompetent. We as individuals simply cannot do everything. We need others if we desire to truly be effective. We need everyone in our social systems to contribute their best strengths so that all together we can be as strong as possible. That’s what creates a win-win.
Collaboration is a prerequisite for healthy ecosystems!
So are you living with a win-win or win-lose belief system? Which lens do you tend to look at your life situations through? Who do you need to collaborate more with from a place of mutual strengths in order to live more effectively?
If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for keynote speakers or workshop teachers for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.