What nature can teach us about business and social relationships

In nature, symbiosis refers to a close and prolonged relationship between two different organisms that typically benefits at least one of the participants. The symbiotic relationship can be of three different forms: Mutualism, commensalism and parasitism.

Examples of the 3 types of symbiosis in nature:

  1. Mutualism: The relationship between bees and flowers is the classic example. Bees collect nectar from flowers and in the process, they transfer pollen from flower to flower, allowing the plants to fertilize and reproduce. The bees benefit from the nectar they collect as a source of food, while the flowers benefit from the pollination, which helps them to reproduce.
  2. Commensalism: Cattle egrets often follow cattle as they graze, feeding on insects stirred up by the cattle’s movements. The cattle are neither helped nor harmed by the presence of the cattle egrets, while the cattle egrets benefit from the abundance of insects.
  3. Parasitism: Ticks feed on the blood of mammals, taking nutrients from their host. The tick benefits from the blood meal, while the mammal is harmed as it loses blood and can also potentially acquire diseases from the tick.

Examples of the 3 types of symbiosis in business:

  1. Mutualism: This type can be seen in a business relationship where two companies work together to achieve mutual benefits, such as increased sales or cost savings. For example, a software company may partner with a hardware company to offer a complete solution to customers, with each company benefiting from the relationship.
  2. Commensalism: This can be seen in cases where one company uses another company’s services or resources without impacting its operations. For example, a retailer may use a logistics company’s transportation services to deliver its products to customers, with the logistics company benefiting from the increased business and the retailer being able to save time and resources on transportation.
  3. Parasitism: This is where one company takes advantage of another company’s resources or reputation without giving anything in return. For example, a company may use a competitor’s brand name or reputation to promote its own products, taking advantage of the competitor’s hard work and reputation without giving anything in return.

Examples of the 3 types of symbiosis in a social context:

  1. Mutualism: In a personal or social relationship, this is where two individuals support each other and work together to achieve mutual benefits, such as increased happiness or personal growth. For example, two friends may support each other through difficult times and celebrate each other’s successes, with both individuals benefiting from the relationship.
  2. Commensalism: In this when one individual benefits from the relationship while the other is neither helped nor harmed. For example, one person may borrow a book from a friend without it affecting the friend’s life in any way, with the borrower benefiting from access to the book.
  3. Parasitism: In this instance, one person may constantly borrow money from a friend without ever paying it back, taking advantage of the friend’s generosity without giving anything in return.

The first lesson for us is to self-assess where we are in the value-creation chain as it pertains to our symbiotic business and social relationships.

  • Are we positively contributing or being taken advantage of by others?
  • How can we make sure all our relationships are net positive of the value exchange to achieve the ultimate win-win outcome?

The second, harder lesson is to determine if we have any toxic relationships that need to be changed or brought to an end.

Nature has a lot to teach us. The more we learn from ‘her’, the better we will be at developing and nurturing mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships in business and our personal lives.

Easier said than done, but well worth the self-assessment!

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