trees as metaphor for organization communications

biomimicry fascinates me. to that end, i have learned from folks (the gainesville catholic worker, curtis ogden, danielle coates-connor, adrianne maree brown) to think and model things after nature (i mean, aren’t we nature?). i’d like to learn more about mushrooms and mycelium magic, but at the moment, i often use trees as a powerful metaphor for describing nodes in systems. this is the first of two posts about tree as node metaphor: today for an organization’s communications systems and tomorrow, for an individual.

when i think about organizational communications, i think of the tree as the organization (org) and its communications as water.

trees die without water. therefore, they need sufficient systems to bring water into the them. these are roots.

not only is water necessary, but water carries things into and through the tree. it carries with it nutrients and those end up in the tree. water also helps trees to carry information about to other parts of it (sap). when a tree gets a cut, sap both provides healing and protection and lets the tree know that something happened.

water also makes growth possible. growth of the trunk and branches (the org infrastructure) as well as leaves and fruit/seeds/reproductive devices. leaves turn one resource into another and fruit helps the tree (org) reproduce itself. there is so much to dig into here…

trees also grow branches to support new leaves and higher fruit production and sometimes those branches break. when they break, they fall to the ground and decay. parts of branches decay at different rates and provide different types of value to the ground over different timescales. the fruit may decompose quickly, allowing seed(s) to get into the soil and germinate, replicating the tree. the woody, more fibrous parts of the branch will decay slowly, sometimes even creating habitat for other life in the process (see hugelkulture. illustration below).

hugulkultur illustration

and, just like trees, when water and information aren’t flowing, things go wrong. sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. in either case, the better the tree’s infrastructure for bringing in and moving water around, the more resilient the tree will be.

omg there is so much more to write here and i didn’t even fully draw out the parallels, but they’re there. and this is how i think about org communications systems. more to come on this in the future…

ps - all of this is really about networks, but talking that through is for another time.

pps - the tree is just an analogy for an ecosystem. but most people (this value add is for me, too) are more easily able to understand a tree rather than think about the elements of an entire ecosystem. but a tree is an ecosystem, so it’s just easier for the analogic purposes to stay there.

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