Gini Dietrich

The Five Career Growth Strategies You Can Learn from Nature

By: Gini Dietrich | June 2, 2020 | 
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The Five Career Growth Strategies You Can Learn from NatureI have a client who has become a friend during the past several years.

At the start of our bi-weekly meetings, we discuss gardening.

We eventually get to business growth, of course, but we start with growing things. 

You see, she is a Master Gardener and I’m, at best, an amateur.

How many of you can lay claim to having the full and undivided attention of a Master Gardener every other week?

Not many, I’ll bet.

So you can rest assured I take full advantage of being able to talk to her every couple of weeks—so I can work on my green thumb while she works on business growth.

I’m totally winning in this relationship. 

During a recent conversation she and I had, we discussed a Wall Street Journal article about how to survive the pandemic by taking cues from nature.

Naturally, of course. 

Ba da dum.

And that, my friends, is what we’re going to discuss today: what you can learn from nature to pull yourself—and your career or your business—out of the pandemic.

Innovate By Copying Nature

As it turns out, wildfires, pine cones, armadillos, geckos, and mantis shrimp hold the key to out coming out of the pandemic with our heads on straight—and a new found passion for our careers. 

The idea that we can innovate by observing and copying nature is a concept popularized by Janine Benyus, an American natural sciences writer, innovation consultant, and author.

It applies to new products, such as adhesives inspired by the sticky feet of the gecko and underwater cameras suggested by the eyes of the mantis shrimp. 

But the natural world offers so much more than simply ideas for product design.

It can also offer insight into how to keep up with quickly changing markets, cooperating with peers, and fostering resilience—each which are relevant to every one of us, no matter where we are in our career growth.

Many of the roughly eight million species on Earth have weathered times of intense disruption—something human beings are experiencing now.

The non-human species have developed strategies to help them not just adapt to harsh conditions, but to thrive.

Strategies we can learn from. 

The aforementioned article looked at five ways organisms respond to periods of extreme adversity—and the insights they hold that are valuable to you, my dear readers.

Find New Business Growth Opportunities 

The first strategy is to find new business growth opportunities—but they work for your career, not just a business. 

I’m not talking about learning a new language or growing a sourdough starter if that’s not your thing, rather looking for different ways to package your expertise.

When a tornado uproots trees, it allows sunlight to reach the forest floor.

This allows seeds that couldn’t grow because of lack of sun and water (and love, as my small child would say), can now sprout and thrive.

Or, when wildfires burn things to the ground, new habitats are created for new or different species to flourish. 

Similarly, we’ve seen significant business growth within our communities.

Bakeries are offering sourdough starter for those who don’t want to grow their own, but also can’t find yeast.

Restaurants are offering curbside pickup.

My neurologist now sees me on FaceTime (and I cannot tell you how much I love that) . 

You can walk down the street in my neighborhood and get a margarita to go in a kiddie cup.

I don’t know why I love that so much, but I do. I hope they never stop doing that.

Shut Down and Strengthen

I’ll steal the example from the article because it’s perfect: the shortleaf pine does not have thick bark that can withstand a wildfire.

Because of that, they are commonly burned to the ground.

But they have incredibly strong roots below the ground that allow them to quickly rebuild after the fire has passed.

I had a similar conversation with an agency owner client who has lost every client but one during this pandemic.

I cried with her and I empathized with her—and then we got down to business growth.

We talked about how, while it totally sucks to have to rebuild, this gives her a perfect opportunity to take what she’s learned in the past 12 years and rejigger and tweak in a way that allows her to have the kind of business she wants versus the one she accidentally created.

Maybe you’ve been laid off or you’ve had to take a pay cut or you’ve been furloughed or you’re like my friend and have nearly lost your entire business.

Whatever your situation, remember that you have strong roots through your experience.

You have a network and business contacts.

You have vendors and partners and customers who are willing to help you out.

Allow your strong roots to help you quickly rebuild. 

Take Advantage of Predators

This is the only strategy from the article that bothered me a little bit.

I get it. I do. But it also feels very opportunistic.

Just like hawks circle the sky, waiting for an animal to get hurt or animals wait for other animals escaping a wildfire to get their lunch, larger businesses can look for acquisitions. 

For you, that could look like selling your solopreneur list of clients and skill set to an agency, going to work for a larger corporation where you can focus on what you do best, or to sell your agency or other assets to a bigger company.

If you’ve used this pandemic to shut down and strengthen, this might be the time to look at bringing your expertise to an organization in a different way.

Not every role or business will survive.

If you’re in that boat—or if you’re simply just tired of the rat race—don’t allow yourself to get eaten by a predator, but consider joining forces with them.

Look for Leftovers

When I graduated from college and got my big, fancy job at FleishmanHillard, I had to go shopping for suits.

As you can imagine and have probably experienced yourself, buying suits is not an inexpensive endeavor.

But my mom is a shopper extraordinaire (which is probably why I hate shopping; she’s far better at it than I am).

She would take me to consignment stores and pull suits off the racks I would NEVER have chosen for myself—and she was always right.

Plus, with her ability to tailor them, I always looked like a million bucks.

Just like beetles will fly in large numbers to recently burned trees to take advantage of food, shelter, and reproductive sites, you may very well have an opportunity to work with experts who have been laid off.

I have an agency owner client who is amping up her contractor network for this very reason. 

While not technically ‘leftovers” because the skill set and expertise are just as important now, there is something to be said for building your network with experts who may be a tad bit cheaper today.

Launch Something New

During the Great Recession, my business went through something similar to what is happening to it today.

Of course, back then I wasn’t also a first grade teacher, but once I licked my wounds and figured out that I was far better running my own thing than becoming an employee (as we discussed last week), I got creative.

In the decade that followed, I co-authored Marketing In the Round, I wrote and published Spin Sucks, and I launched Spin Sucks into a professional development business

In this instance the Wall Street Journal article says:

Disruption can sometimes be the ideal time for organisms not just to regenerate or seek sustenance—but to reproduce. Lodgepole pine trees have developed hard cones that are glued shut, and to release their seeds, the cones must be exposed to high temperature from a fire. Thus, the timing of tree reproduction is actually dependent on a catastrophic event.

I will be the first to admit that, because of everything else thrown on top of sheltering in place, I haven’t had time to be creative or let my mind wander, as it is wont to do when it’s time for us to launch something new.

But nearly three months in (and certainly because the school year is ending), I’m finding my groove again.

I’m certain you can get there, too.

Go Outside and Observe!

Now that it’s springtime in the northern hemisphere, you can get outside and pay attention to how nature evolves and changes, even by day.

As you closely watch the animals and plants and trees, think about what lessons you can take from them for your own career.

We’d love to hear what you have planned.

The comments below are yours and we welcome you with open arms in the Spin Sucks Community

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.