Becoming Dynamically Disruptive or The Essence of Wolves
In a September 2013 Ted Talk, George Monbiot discusses the 1995 reintroduction of Wolves into Yellowstone Park. As a setup to his story, Monbiot first describes the ecological changes that occurred in Yellowstone following the vast eradication of the wolf population during the 19th and 20th centuries. Says Monbiot:
Before the wolves turned up, (they’d been absent for seventy years) the numbers of deer, because there was nothing to hunt them had built up and built up and despite efforts by humans to control them, they’d managed to reduce much of the vegetation there to almost nothing. They’d just grazed it away.
Monbiot continues by describing the extraordinary changes that occurred when the wolves were reintroduced into the park, an impact reached well beyond the deer population. And, if these first paragraphs about wolves and deer seem a strange topic for examination within a business blog, bear with me…I’ll connect the dots shortly.
Of the wolf reintroduction Monbiot says:
As soon as the wolves arrived, even though they were small in number, they began to have some of the most remarkable affects. First, of course, they killed some of the deer but that wasn’t the major thing. Much more significantly, they radically changed the behavior of the deer. The deer started avoiding certain parts of the park. The places where they could be trapped most easily, particularly the valleys and the gorges.
Immediately, those places began to regenerate. In some areas the height of the trees quintupled in just six years. Bare valley sides quickly became forests…and as soon as that happened, the birds started moving in. The number of beavers began to increase because they like to eat the trees. And beavers, like wolves, are ecosystem engineers. The damns they built in the rivers provided habitats for otters and muskrats and ducks and fish and reptiles and amphibians.
The wolves also killed coyotes and because of that, the numbers of rabbits and mice began to rise, which meant more hawks, and more weasels. Then the bear population increased, largely because there were more berries to eat on the regenerating shrubs. And then the bear began to reinforce the impact of the wolves by killing some of the calves of the deer.
But here’s where it gets very interesting: the wolves changed the behavior of the rivers, as well. As the regeneration of the forests stabilized the banks there was less soil erosion. They began to meander less…were more fixed in their course.
Monbiot concludes by summarizing that the wolves, then, though very few in number, managed to change not just the ecosystem of the park, but the physical geographic characteristics as well.
What’s going on, here? And what does this have to do with achieving professional excellence?
The answer lies in Monbiot’s description of wolves as ecosystem engineers in their ability to radically disrupt nature by following their instincts. But it’s more than just doing what they were born to do. The wolves are disruptive because they do the one thing that they are uniquely able to do. They solve a specific problem no other creature (not even humans) are capable of solving.
I believe we all have the aptitude to be similarly disruptive to our own professional and personal ecosystems, be it a business ecosystem, or financial ecosystem, or family ecosystem.
To be disruptive in this way means we have the power to be so influential, so meaningful to our environment that a cascading impact of affect will occur around us. It means we have the ability to influence change beyond our scope of understanding. That through disruption we will the support of others, and from our efforts, still others will grow and be similarly disruptive. Just as with the wolves of Yellowstone, our ability to disrupt is achieved through the one thing we are uniquely capable of doing and that no other creature can fully replicate.
ECOSYSTEM ENGINEERS or FORGET YOUR EDUCATION
We are not predators. Put us naked in a jungle to contend with the elements and not one of us would survive based on physical ability. We aren’t strong, we aren’t fast, our teeth are dull and our claws are clipped.
Developing unique and creative solutions to problems, however, is completely in our instinctual wheelhouse. This is the very thing that humans are uniquely capable of and through which we possess the power to disrupt.
The thing is, we’ve been taught NOT to be creative. From childhood we are gradually instructed to ignore our instincts. Our entire system of education is designed to ensure that everyone thinks the same way. We sit in the same classes, taught the same curriculum and take the same tests, all of which require the same answers to get a passing grade.
An industrial age byproduct, this system of education was established to create a workforce adept at listening, learning through repetition and completing tasks. Assembly line workers, managed by assembly line leaders, hired by assembly line owners, made legacy by assembly line investors.
Most of us learn throughout our professional careers to do things the way everyone else does. Making a mistake is considered a failure, rather than a learning opportunity. Failure (the thing most feared) is avoided rather than studied for its unique ability to drive real growth through iteration. And little-by-little, we’ve lost what makes us so valuable. Through nurture, we have forgotten that it is our nature to be creative problem solvers. To do things differently. To be disruptive.
As we dip our toes into a new year, however, our ecosystems shift around us. More people today are engaged in creative innovation than at any other time in our history. Unique, creative, derivative and iterative solutions are introduced into the culture every day that challenge and change the world we live in.
It is a change driven by wolves in the best possible way. These are the people wo are dynamically disruptive, constantly looking for opportunities to do things differently. They challenge themselves to shift their perspectives, even just slightly, in ways that reveal new sightlines.
And we were all born to do it.
Being disruptive needn’t be big or brash. It needn’t be overtly novel, or shake things at its core. Rather, being disruptive means that we take deliberate and intentional steps to engage our routines. And then we act on our impulses to develop new solutions to problems that seem to have already been solved.
Each of us possess the essence of wolves. We were born to be ecosystem engineers, to create and recreate. As we celebrate a new year, developing resolutions all our own, grasping for disruption might not be a bad place to start.