Challenging Monocultures via Crop Rotation

Agricultural scientists are advocating a return to crop rotation. They argue that if farmers diversify what they grow each season, they can achieve more sustainable environmental and economic outcomes. Whereas, industrial-scale, intensive and single crop farming depletes the soil, and requires the use of expensive (and potentially harmful) pesticides and chemical fertilizers. In short, monocultures are self-limiting and ultimately self-destructive.

Indoor salad garden, Itoya department store, Ginza, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

Indoor salad garden, Itoya department store, Ginza, Japan (Photo © Rory Manchee, all rights reserved)

The same concept applies to teams and organisations. If we only associate with people who look, talk, sound, think and act like us, we not only risk group-think, we also promote unconscious collective bias. While it might seem comfortable to only deal and interact with “people like us”, it creates unrealistic cognitive and cultural homogeneity.

I understand why we often talk about “finding our tribe”, but for me, I find connections and shared values among several tribes: partly because no single community can provide for all our needs; partly because at their worst, monocultures can result in in-breeding….

One antidote to organisational monocultures is to promote diversity (especially cognitive diversity), so you mix up the elements that make up a team or an entity. Another solution (a bit like crop rotation itself) is to alternate and rotate roles on a project, within a team or at the executive level. (Some corporate boards already practise this.)

I once had a marvellous CEO who liked to boast that he had worked in every department within the company, from editorial to production, from sales to marketing. Not only did he have a more complete view of the organisation, he also had a much better understanding of how to get each department to collaborate.

At the individual level, alternating roles within the organisation can help them to acquire new skills, develop fresh perspectives, build different networks, gain valuable experience, and avoid going stale.

If you are uncomfortable with the horticultural or biological analogies, then perhaps the work of Michael Simmons is more palatable. From his research, “simply being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success”.*

Another way of looking at this notion of “crop rotation” is through the lens of a corporate turnaround, or a company trying to move from start-up to scale-up.

In the former scenario, the owners, board and CEO recognise that they need to bring in different people, even if only on a short-term basis, to help them:

  • Review the status quo objectively
  • Identify new ideas and fresh thinking
  • Enhance in-house skills and resources
  • Apply a circuit-breaker to unblock the stalemate
  • Join the dots between different parts of the organisation, the market and the client base

In the latter situation, bringing in specialist advisers, or “pop-up boards”, can:

  • Provide an injection of strategic focus
  • Develop a dynamic business planning process
  • Ramp up capacity or capability in a very short space of time
  • Open up new networks or provide access to capital, resources and markets
  • Expand the team’s “bench strength” at critical times

As an independent consultant with a portfolio of interests, I provide an interim resource to my clients, fulfilling different roles depending on their specific requirements. I also serve on pop-up and advisory boards.  And because I am naturally curious, and like to immerse myself in different ideas, I am an “open networker”, meaning that I engage and connect with different people across the various groups of which I am a member. Where I increasingly add value is in joining the dots between otherwise unconnected or seemingly disparate elements.

Next week: Latest #FinTech Round-Up

* Thanks to Jessica Stillman at Inc.Com for bringing this article to my attention

5 thoughts on “Challenging Monocultures via Crop Rotation

  1. You wanted to know what I think? I’m in full agreement on this one! I looked for my tribe for a long time before realising my tribe probably doesn’t exist, and that this can be a good thing. I don’t have much to add because I think you’ve explored the concept of diversity quite well, but I would be interested in hearing how you achieve balance. Diversity in excess leads to shallow connections and spreading yourself too thin, at least in my experience.

  2. My apologies for my silence, I was delving down a few rabbit holes thanks to your reply. Do you go off gut-feelings or a defined list when evaluating connections? It’s interesting we both seem to ask similar questions of unsolicited connections, I find I often get interesting answers which improves the conversation (Or no answer at all, which is the answer in itself).
    I’ve honed my approach in a similar direction to yourself over the years. I’m happier with the process now, although I find I do most of the work of maintaining connection. I could get a lot better at expressing my own value. Either people don’t see it the way I do, or I’m expressing it to the wrong people in the first place.

    • No apologies necessary. When deciding whether or not to accept unsolicited invitations, I do a number of things, but not in any particular order – e.g., who else do they know, where have they worked/studied, does their profile add up, is the context relevant, etc.
      I agree that asking the question can be interesting in itself!
      As for conveying your own value, have you tried asking people you work with how you help them? Often we are unable to see the value we offer – so it’s good to get some external perspective.

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