Thriving in Ecosystems
Ecosystems are becoming increasingly important. Biological ecosystems, mankind’s cradle, are threatened by climate change, overexploitation, genetic engineering and water scarcity. New ways of living and being have to be negotiated. Lifestyles need to change. Moreover, organizations are discovering business ecosystems as a strategy to overcome scarcity and to prosper through collaboration. Shifting our perspective from being isolated entities to constituting part of a bigger pattern impacts our worldview and value system. Opportunities to connect and grow as a collective emerge.
Ecosystems are complex systems composed of agents and their relationships among each other and with their environment. Naturally, they take on three distinct functions:
- Safe-guarding long-term existence through resource sharing
- Nurturing balance and diversity
- Providing a sense of belonging
We have been born into ecosystems since the beginning of time. Yet, ecosystems in various areas of life— including ecology, economy and society—have come out of balance in the last few centuries, resulting in a loss of their functions. Natural disasters, financial crises and loneliness epidemics are some consequences. How might we, as individuals, restore ecosystems’ intended utility for the benefit of the greater good? What are coaches’ roles?
A Holistic Perspective
Ecosystems imply interconnectedness. Ecosystems require whole systems thinking. Rooting in Newtonian physics, we have traditionally been trained to perceive ourselves as isolated entities who are impacted by our environment. Moving forward with evermore discoveries in quantum physics, we are invited to make room for a holistic worldview characterized by relational webs and multi-directional influences.
In order to navigate these complex and dynamic constructs, we need to acquire the skill of looking at things from different angles. Here, coaching comes into play. A coaching session can serve as reflection space to step out of the ordinary and open up realms of new possibilities. By guiding clients through various aspects of a given ecosystem—including other people’s perspectives, group dynamics, systemic links and cause-effect relationships—they might get a notion of the bigger pattern—a pattern that they are part of. With an understanding of the intricate and interwoven whole, fruitful approaches to the ecosystem’s benefit arise. Cornerstones are mutual interests, trust, collaboration and resource sharing in order to overcome scarcity and zero-sum games.
Nevertheless, it would be misleading to expect clear-cut solutions. Ecosystems are in constant flux, continuously adapting to new circumstances. Whether we thrive in ecosystems inherently depends on our ability to deal with uncertainties in constructive ways.
Navigating uncertainties requires anchors. These anchors can be defined in terms of values—personal and collective values. Values strengthen our sense of self while, at the same time, connect us with each other. They determine what we deem important, what we desire and how we show up in life. It may sound simple, yet, doing a coach-accompanied values inventory can go a long way in finding clarity and making sound decisions. Moreover, we can draw people who are in tune with our aspirations into our lives by putting our values first.
Flourishing in Communities
Communities are a central characteristic of ecosystems. They capitalize on group potential—the idea that a group of people’s ideas and capabilities taken together far exceed individual efforts. Communities allow us to gather context, challenge assumptions and integrate diverse insights in order to accelerate learning and development. When engaging in communities, needs conflicts and ambivalences naturally surface. Differences come to the forefront and often result in attempts to convince and persuade others, causing divides.
On the one hand, we ought to be open, emotionally available to others. On the other hand, it is essential for us to protect our personal boundaries and stay true to ourselves. How do we overcome this?
Feelings and emotions can act as a compass. Becoming aware of our emotions and getting in touch with how we feel, equips us with invaluable guidance. Letting emotions in, however, requires a safe space—a space which can be provided in a coaching setting. By honoring feelings and communicating them authentically, trust is generated. This allows for safe self-expression, healthy negotiations of joint actions and, ultimately, positive change. Common goals such as the sustenance of ecosystems can then be achieved, not despite, but because of individual differences combined with our willingness to thrive together.
© Copyright Melissa Kneubuehler