The Four Signs of Life

I spent 10+ years in B2B sales.  After a while, I could walk into an office and know instantly whether the company was busy or if it was struggling.  That is to say, whether it was dead or alive.  It wasn’t that there was noise, or that there were people lined up, there was an energy that I could feel. The office had a buzz, it was alive.

We often talk about creating engagement, or even culture, I think we need to think in terms of creating “life”.

In my 7th grade biology class, I learned that there 4 signs that define a life.

  1. Metabolize: The processes in an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained, and destroyed and by which energy is made available.”
  2. Grow: “to increase by natural development, as any living organism or part by assimilation of nutriment.”
  3. Reproduce: “the natural process among organisms by which new individuals are generated and the species perpetuated.”
  4. Adapt: “to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly.”

If you are a “Systems Thinker”, organizations have often been compared to organisms, and it seems that these same characteristics should be used to evaluate them. It’s important to note however, that these are not independent.  That is, having just one of them does not describe life.

For example, there are many companies that metabolize quite well.  That is to say they are efficient with their resources, but they don’t grow.  There are other companies that grow, but they don’t metabolize, or adapt, or reproduce.

In reality, for a company to exhibit all 4 is quite unusual.  It takes a great deal of intention to have all 4, and it is only valuable for those who are in it for the long-term. You have to want to live longer than a fruit fly.  Only 10% of companies last 10 years or longer.

If you are in it for the long-term, the place to start is with yourself.  How does your leadership reflect life?  Are you growing, efficient, reproducing, and adapting?  Leaders that lead like this, create companies that reflect them.