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We are told within most capitalistic models that being competitive is important for success. But what if that’s just a misnomer. What if there are other ways in which ‘success’ can be measured and delivered. What would the world look like if collaboration was the means by which ‘success’ was both measured and achieved?

Sometimes it’s not its ‘competitive spirit’ that ensures the survival of an organisation, but its willingness to collaborate with those around it. Governance has a lesson from mosses.

“There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.

This is what has been called the "dialect of moss on stone - an interface of immensity and minuteness, of past and present, softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy, yin and yan.”

This comes from the work of Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, a bryologist, the study of mosses, who describes them as the ‘coral reefs of the forest’.

The world itself keeps hidden a lot of miraculous and profound things. If we just take the time to look inside, it will lead you to a doorway of different learning, new information and unleashing diverse knowledge.

Kimmerer, in her research, is clear. When she talks about the beauty of nature, of the plants, animals, the beings with which we inhabit this earth, we think that they are passive and don’t respond to us as humans, but she posits that it’s exactly the opposite!

Like all other beings, mosses do have a form of consciousness, a form of awareness and sensing their environment, an ‘ecological sentience’ if you like. In incredibly sophisticated ways, they respond and react ensuring their survival in a very competitive arena. The metaphor here is strong between how mosses enhance their longevity and how organisations should consider the same.

Corporate governance requires that boards service the long-term interests of all stakeholders and this is largely driven through a competitive model. Compete, to win.

Mosses have lived on this plant for 350 million years, a magnificent long life, because they work with a sense of creativity and collaboration with the natural world around them, no rush, no urgency, no competition, they just live where the dominant plants are living. 

They build soil, purify water, they are the agents of biodiversity and their ecological sense is benevolent and that is how their sustainability, their reciprocity of giving or adding value, contributing and working with those around them is how they have kept evolving.

Governance is more about adding value, contributing, bringing together many parts of an organisation and endeavouring to facilitate a working partnership. It’s not just about solving or resolving organisational problems or insecurities. 

To have a sustainable organisation, you should have a profound understanding of your work culture and particularly, your employees and their understanding of how to reciprocate in different situations, how to collaborate with colleagues, your business partners; all the stakeholders involved with your organisation.  

Eastern philosophy nurtures the idea that not everything can be solved, some problems have their own indigenous way of occurring and sometimes we simply need to let it go, to not be resistive, but go passively and deliberately towards collaboration, not competition. 

Mosses have this amazing capacity. They are the smallest of plants, but have the ability to work with the environment with reciprocity.

They live in the tiny layers in between, and on, rocks and surfaces. 

They have the ability to clone themselves.

They are integral to the functioning of a forest.

They  inhabit almost every ecosystem on earth.

There are over 22,000 species of moss.

They have been on the planet for 350 million years.

Mosses are exemplars of living within your means, but by doing so have still grown to become one of the most widespread biological organisms on our planet.

What’s most fascinating is that mosses have an incredibly low competitive ability, they are invariably about 1cm tall, they cannot gain resources easily and have to live in places other plants simply couldn't survive.

This brings into question the premise of competitive biological success and as organisations, we need to learn from mosses that long-term survival might actually be dependent upon being collaborative over being competitive.

Without question the current global pandemic crisis has brought with it significant challenges. It has also brought the term governance more and more to the forefront of an organisation’s vocabulary. 

If we are to move towards better governance, if we are to act responsibly as directors of our organisations, we need to work much harder to understand what ‘good’ governance truly represents.

Mosses teach us that there is a far deeper relationship going on within nature. This is about a true and honest contributory and collaborative symbiotic connection between the earth and us.

We need to feed this wonderful understanding into our organisations.

Nature continues to educate us with staggeringly beautiful collaborative partnerships in biological systems, for all of us to learn from.

There are hidden answers everywhere within them, we just need to be more conscious, mindful and deliberate about seeking them out.

Embracing them with open arms and learning from these indigenous ways of knowing.


This blog was written with the support and insight of one of our contributors. Thank you, Divya. As an MBA student specifically interested in marketing, she is a contributor to the Perrin Carey blog. If you would like to contribute to moving governance forwards towards a more ethical and human centric framework, please contact either Divya or Perrin.

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