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Learning From Weeds: Part 3 [Entrepreneurship
Posted on September 17, 2014 @ 08:44:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In today's blog on Learning from Weeds (see part 1, part 2 for previous blogs on the topic) I want to discuss one major explanation for how weeds have spread and evolved over time and see if this explanation contains any ideas we might find useful as part of a business strategy.

One explanation for the existence and distribution of certain weeds around the world is that the plants were moved from an area of the world where they had lots of natural enemies to a new area of the world where those enemies didn't exist, thereby providing them with a competitive advantage over the native plants. We can call this the Exotic Invasion Hypothesis.

Many of the weed species we see in North America were transported from colonizers from England. The dandelion is one example, but there are many others. Some were planted because they thought the plants looked good or provided some medicinal, herbal, food, or other aspect. Others weeds came in the ballast of ships that discharged in harbours and washed ashore.

When I look at weeds this time of year in abandoned hayfields, the three dominant weeds are New York Aster, White Heath Aster and Goldenrod. I am struck both by how dominant their presence is in the hayfield but also how beatiful they look. They would look as great in a flowerbed as any plant you might buy in a store; indeed, I recently say a yard that had several native plant gardens that looked very nice. He threw in a couple of exotics to add more color and shape variety.

So what can we learn from how weeds spread that we might apply to starting, growing, and sustaining a business?

The spread of weeds suggests that a company might only be able to spread so far in its native territory owing to the strength of local competition. It might be able to grow further if it can find an environment where it has fewer local competitors. To grow in this manner you need to be able to do a competitive analysis of your local environment and then look at other environments to see if fewer of these competitive elements are present in the environment you want to expand into. Such an analysis works best if you are considering several potential locations to expand into because then you can pick the location that has the fewest competitive elements in it.

Hawaii has hardly any native vegetation left. It was an island cut off from the rest of the world and in that environment some slow growing non-aggressive plants were allowed to thrive. When foreigners started to travel more freely to Hawaii, the plants they took with them, either by intention or not, had little local competition for the resources the island provided. As a business, your situation is either like Hawaii pre-colonialization and there is room to expland locally by competing with slow growing non-aggessive local competition, or you are looking for a Hawaii-type business environment that it might be easier to expand into.

The Exotic Invasion Hypothesis is one of the more important explanations for how weeds startup, grow, and sustain themselves over time. There are other explanations that we might look into in another blog as they suggest other strategies and conceptualizations of weed/business dynamics.

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