Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute, started a revolution!

She views the world through a lens of optimal practicality, teaching us to adopt sustainable solutions by emulating natural patterns and strategies. Business can benefit from imitating nature at its most efficient.

Together with some great thinkers of our time, let’s dig deeper into Systems theory, to unearth how to run a business like a forest.

The starting point is seeing waste in a different light.

Use NOWTIME as an acronym to identify WASTE (MUDA):

  1. Nonquality (redoing, correcting, reworking to remedy errors/defects)
  2. Overproduction (producing too much of something too soon)
  3. Waiting (typically the easiest waste to spot)
  4. Transportation (moving further than needed; temporarily relocating/storing)
  5. Inventory (too much of anything)
  6. Motion (the opposite of waiting, unnecessary work movements)
  7. Excess production (processing that the customer does not value/pay for).


Womack and Jones, in their book Lean Thinking, interpret that LEAN thinking, a way to eradicate MUDA, provides value by doing more with less, while approaching customer’s requirements even more closely.

A value stream is the total sum of all actions to create a product or service, from conceptualization, sourcing and transformation of raw materials, through order taking, scheduling and delivery. MUDA can generally be reduced in all steps along the way. LEAN thinking suggests that departmentalized “batch and queue” processing can be made more efficient by redefining functional departments as product teams wherein value can flow more easily. Value flow within product teams typically saves a lot of time, from concept to launch. Customer pull, when product is created “just-in-time”, can be another significant time and resource saver.

These LEAN principles (value stream, flow and pull) reduce MUDA while inching ever closer to perfection. The secret lies in maintaining balance between flow and pull, while continuously finding and reducing MUDA all along the value stream.

Hawkins, Lovins and Lovins, in their classic Natural Capitalism, had observed that, in an economy of service and flow, an organization may own less but achieve more, while physically located nowhere, yet selling everywhere. The more its services are met by efficiency, dematerialization, simplification and LEAN principles, the more willingly customers will pay for their products and services. This bodes well for a more stable, growth oriented economy that utilizes fewer resources.

Explaining the maintenance of balance between flow and pull, Meadows, in her Thinking in Systems, published posthumously, defines an organization or economy as a system, described as “a set of elements or parts that is coherently organized and interconnected in a pattern or structure that produces a characteristic set of behaviors, often classified as its ‘function’ or ‘purpose’ “.

Meadows’ fundamental system principles are:

  1. A system is more than the sum of its parts.
  2. Many of the interconnections operate via information flow.
  3. The system’s stock is its accumulated value (raw materials, data, information).
  4. If the sum of inflows exceeds the sum of outflows the stock level rises.
  5. If the sum of outflows exceeds the sum of inflows the stock level falls.
  6. If the sum of inflows equals the sum of outflows the stock level is balanced.

Meadows’ principles form the foundation for discussing feedback loops, another way of visualizing the balance between flow and pull, which we will explore in the next 2 Blogs:

How to Run your Business Like a Forest – Part 2 of 3

How to Run your Business Like a Forest – Part 3 of 3

Yes, I know that you may not yet see the woods for the trees – I hope this series helps!

Fay Rakoff


Benyus, J. M. (1997). Biomimicry. United States: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
Boulding, K. (1965) ‘Earth as a Space Ship’. Washington State University, Committee on Space Sciences.  Kenneth E. Boulding Papers, Archives (Box # 38), University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries.
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Gundling, E., Caldwell, C., Cvitkovich, K. (2015). Leading across New Borders. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Hawken, P., Lovins, A., Lovins, L. H. (1999). Natural Capitalism. United States: Back Bay Books
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Womack, J. P., & Jones, D. T. (2003). Lean Thinking. United States: Free Press