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Metaphors of Growth [Growth
Posted on January 6, 2014 @ 09:47:00 AM by Paul Meagher

A long time ago, I read Geoge Lakoff's book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things (1987) in which he argues for the centrality of metaphors in understanding human cognition. In Lakoff's Wikipedia Page, his position is summarized as follows:

For Lakoff, the development of thought has been the process of developing better metaphors. The application of one domain of knowledge to another domain of knowledge offers new perceptions and understandings.

In my last blog on Business Guilds I argued that the concept of "Growth" as applied to business is a metaphor based upon our presumptions about how growth in nature occurs. The richness of our thinking about business growth may be limited by our understanding of how growth in nature occurs. Many of us have simplistic notions of how growth in nature occurs which potentially leads to a simplistic notion of how growth in business occurs. The concept of a business guild was an attempt to reframe how business growth occurs based upon an understanding of the permaculture concept of plant guilds: associations of plants that mutually reinforce each other and lead to more biomass production (one measure of growth) than plants without such associations. As such, I argued that business growth occurs best in the context of business guilds. This would be in contrast to a view of growth as originating from individualistic company efforts to innovate or improve. I think these efforts are important, but if nature is any guide, the level of growth you will achieve outside of a business guild will be less than if you exist within a guild structure.

One approach to learning from nature is to observe and study how nature at it's best works and attempt to consciously apply that understanding to how business should work. Nature at it's best does not grow monocultural crops, denude soil, and import large quantities of energy to keep growth cycles happening so industrial agriculture is probably not the example of nature that you should focus on as your basis for extrapolating to how business growth should or might occur. A mature ecosystem or a permacultural garden that tries to imitate nature may be a better source for metaphorical understanding.

If you accept that our understanding of abstract concepts like growth is based on metaphors, then you can have alot of fun trying to apply an evolving understanding of natural growth to the concept of business growth. For example, does nitrogen in natural growth play a similar role to money in business growth? Does it matter where your nitrogen comes from - from a fertilizer bag, from a companion-planted legume, from a green manure, etc... How are relationships between business like relationships between plants? In plant guilds, some of the relationships include mulch makers, nutrient accumulators, nitrogen fixers, pest repellants, beneficial insect attractors, fortress plants, soil texturizers, shelterbelts, etc... The guild vocabulary is rich and concrete so gives us ample opportunities to think about business relationships in new ways that might turn out to be useful, yield insight, or simply be entertaining to think or talk about.

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