Year 12 biology class was the first time I was introduced to the wondrous and marvellous design of a single human cell.
Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. A cell is a perfect open system. Their basic function is to take nutrients from food, convert those nutrients into energy, and export transformed energy back into the body. Cells contain our DNA and can make copies of themselves. They are perfect little parcels from which all evolution has spawned.
Our understanding of how human cells and biological process work was enabled by the theories of an Austrian Biologist from the 1960s – Ludwig von Bertalanffy (I love his name – sounds like Butterfly).
The biologist is recognised for his development of general systems theory and in particular the concept of an open system. It was not until his contributions in a seminal essay in 1969 that systems were studied as a discrete concept. Von Bertalanffy introduced the concept of an open system and a closed system.
A closed system is one that operates independently of its environment. A battery, a car engine, a kettle, are all examples of closed systems.
An open system in contrast, is continually in contact with its environment, importing energy, converting and then exporting the transformed energy back into the environment. A human cell is an example of an open system because it maintains a steady state via a continual process of interaction with its environment.
Like human cells, organisations are open systems that import energy, people and materials; converting these via a value-add process; and export these as products and services back into the environment. And like human cells, organisations maintain effectiveness via a continual process of interaction with their environment. Their survival depends on how well they adapt.
During the COVID-19 outbreak there have been many examples of companies who’ve adapted;
As restrictions lift, the temptation is to revert back to the way things were. To seek out a steady state that is familiar and comfortable, like an old pair of socks. But this is not the time to snap back into a state that no longer serves. The environment, the market, the economy, has permanently shifted.
Now is the time to consolidate what you’ve learned through lockdown. To appreciate the skills that provided the requisite variety necessary to transform and adapt. To review the new shape of our lives, our businesses and to ask ourselves – what have we gained through this process that we want to make a more permanent fixture?