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Living Systems Design to revitalize business, politics and governance



Value creation and value exchange are not human inventions. These processes are as old as life itself and therefore their essence goes back to the way life works and evolves. Understanding how living systems operate and translating these insights into Living Systems Design, is a crucial skill to complement Technical System Design. Because technology alone will not get us out of our predicament.



All living entities are involved in complex webs of value exchange and creation. From these exchanges, ecosystems emerge. For instance, trees and fungi established one of the first trade associations already 400 million years ago. Put simply, trees are sugar daddies that trade their sun-derived sugars for soil-bound nutrients delivered by fungal mineral mammas.


This alliance between fungi and trees means that together they can access far more resources than they could on their own. But that is not the main thing. Their symbiosis gives life air to breathe, food to eat, medicine to heal and material to build. That is, the trade system that drives forest growth leaves the entire planet better off because it nurtures a whole ecosystem of species in the process.



Value creation, value exchange and value adding are inherent processes in living systems. Images © Centre4NI.



The value exchange interactions that generate mutual benefit, are called mutualism. Mutualisms can take countless forms, yet always amount to prospering in a reciprocal partnership, where the success of one partner supports the success of the other(s).


Animals breathe in what plants breathe out. Fungi give trees minerals and nutrients and trees give fungi sugars and soil. Grass feeds buffalo and buffalo saliva feeds grass. Flowers provide bees with pollen and nectar and bees provide flowers with pollination. Algae nourish whales and whales nourish algae. The universal pattern here being that life creates conditions that are beneficial to future life. Leaving the planet better off than before. That is the way life works.


“Creating conditions conducive to life is not optional; it is a rite of passage for any organism that manages to fit in here over the long haul.” Dayna Baumeister

That is because the byproducts of these exchanges are life-supporting and life-promoting. The relationship between buffalo and grass creates habitat for numerous other species which in turn increase the richness and resilience of the prairie ecosystems the buffalo visit. The symbiosis between flowers and bees provides food for countless other species, including us. The interaction between whales and algae regulates the climate and nurtures the biosphere. They connect the land with the oceans and the atmosphere, increasing the health and vitality of planet Earth.


"Creating collateral beneficence, just like the whales, bees, fungi and trees, that is what our organisations and business models can achieve if we design them from a for-life value logic." Leen Gorissen

In other words, the byproducts or indirect impact generated from these exchanges, improves the wealth generating capacity of the wider system because they uplift the system’s value-adding ability. They create collateral beneficence. Viewed from this perspective, the value exchange processes in living systems leave the entire planet better off since they enable the next level of evolution. Earth becomes more and can do more.


Translating these lessons into business model design, that is the focus of a white paper we are currently working on. Stay tuned for an update!

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