Fungi, Red Cedars and Business Strategy

A visit to Glacier National Park is on my short list for travel to interesting places. As I am wont to do, I am studying maps, reading guidebooks, and looking up reviews of accommodations to get a feel for the place before we arrive. One source, a used copy of Exploring Glacier National Park by David Rockwell arrived recently. While initially disappointed that it is a naturalist’s guide (versus a tourist’s guide) I began reading, expecting to become bored quickly and move on to less challenging material…with more color photographs.

Calling it a page-turner is a stretch, but last night’s chapter on the McDonald Creek Valley on the west side of the park fascinated me, especially the section entitled The Fungi Make the Forest. I know. You think there is a punch line coming. You can’t believe I’ve become an ecology nerd. There must be a catch.

There is.

As I read about the life cycle of this red cedar-hemlock forest, I was drawn into the intricate interconnectedness of the flora and fauna; how species support and interact with each another. And through adaptations, how the weather and catastrophic events like wild fires are essential to the stability of the entire system. It is nonsense to think of the fungus growing on fallen red cedar trees apart from the Vaux Swifts that take refuge in them, or the flying insects they feed on. Rockwell explained why the practice of controlling wildfires and exterminating wolves in the early days of the Park led to a host of unforeseen consequences, including the endangerment of numerous plant and animal communities whose survival depends on the natural work of predator and flame. I remember the circular diagram of the life cycle of a forest we all studied in seventh-grade earth science, but in those days I wasn’t ready to make a connection between abstract ecology in a classroom and the “ecology” of business.

Closing the book and my eyes, I remained on the porch and listened to the critters. Soon I was making a connection between business strategy and ecology. Consultants, like doctors, are often expected to come up with a diagnosis and prescribe a curative therapy quickly. Our clients want their problems identified and solved, and they understandably don’t like spending money on overhead. No doubt an experienced and highly skilled consultant familiar with the kind of business you are running can begin to understand your business more effectively. And you would be foolish to visit an orthopedic surgeon for advice on a skin rash. It would be a waste of your time and money.

But no one knows your business as well as you. No outside expert can come in and “fix” anything. There are too many interconnected “species” in your organization, and understanding them all and their relationships is the work of a lifetime. What I better understood last night while listening to the crickets and frogs, was that we consultants at our best provide the guidebook, and can take you on a walking tour of a “forest” that is similar to your particular business.

Ultimately you are the one that has to decide if you are going to put out the fires or let them burn, and deal with it when one of your wolves eats your neighbor’s cow. These are not easy choices. A consultant can help you understand the options and the implications. The choices are yours. If you don’t act, the natural processes of competition will continue. But like the thousands of now extinct species, it may be continuing without you.

Ask for help when you need it. And then make a decision…please!