In 1995 Yellowstone National Park successfully reintroduced wolves to limit an explosion in its deer population but they started to regenerate the entire geography of the park as well, bringing life to other species, altering the physical landscape, even changing the direction its rivers flowed in. This ‘trophic cascade’ - the transformation of an entire ecosystem by the right small change - provides a valuable lesson for organisations seeking their own transformations today.
Transformations are conscious attempts to transition to higher levels of health and performance. But while the route to a ‘promised land’ often looks clear enough on a map unchartered hazards, adverse winds and crew morale make the voyage’s reality more complex. And even if the promised land is reached changes in the wider environment can often make it seem a gilded cage (e.g. US ‘shale revolution’ in a world of collapsing oil prices).
Uncertainty makes reverse engineering future states risky. The alternative is to ‘unlock the evolutionary potential of the present’ - seeking out today’s positives to amplify and negatives to dampen to nudge the organisation towards a more viable future at reduced risk and cost.
‘The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.’ (Clay Shirky)
Transformations take inspiration from others but rarely aim to imitate them as copying another’s past practice leaves one behind the curve. Exploring the ‘edge’ of one’s own operations, seeking out that, with the potential to be fundamentally different and bringing it to the core, is truly transformative for it provides the freedom and opportunity to test, learn and develop advantages relevant to the local context.
Moving from top-down creationism to bottom up evolutionism brings online the knowledge of the network (staff, customers, suppliers) creating extra resources for the journey at little extra cost. Rather than being coerced - the source of much resistance and failure - collectives collaborate: sharing micro-stories of how things are done around here and why to trigger fresh insights and mini-interventions that nudge stakeholders towards a vision of a possible future together.
Increased awareness and agility - being open to and taking advantage of emerging opportunities faster and better than rivals - transforms; making the journey - not destination - the differentiator.
The wolves of Yellowstone demonstrate how complex environments - national parks, organisations, even entire economies - can be transformed by small changes. Discover your own transformative ‘trophic cascade’.
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