The Truths

That Guide Us

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A collection of beliefs we hold at our core. Ones that shape our understanding, color our vision and inspire our decisions. We’ve written them out twice - first for them to land on their own. And second, with annotations to add context and provoke deeper thought. 

“People think dreams aren't real just because they aren't made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”

— Neil Gaiman

  1. Our collective future lies in the depth of our imagination 
  2. Human attention is one of the most powerful resources in the world
  3. There’s freedom in trusting our own instincts 
  4. True expression is more powerful than any trend 
  5. Most of life happens not at the extremes, but in the messy middle 
  6. It’s time for new definitions of success, ones that help us live fully and connect deeply

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Taking Cues from Nature: Restoring Personal and Brand Vitality

What if the answers are all around?

Written in collaboration by: Sara Dotterer and Lori Abichandani

We’ve all heard the story of a brand born with so much energy and potential that it catches fire and scales rapidly. But less told is the story of deterioration of brand health and its slow unraveling due to the rapid growth at its seams. As brand builders, we’ve observed this pattern for years, but only recently began asking ourselves the question: how might we proactively design for vitality as an organization grows and scales?

Vitality is defined as “the power giving continuance to life.” It’s an energy present in all living things that urges us to charge forward toward what makes us feel most healthy and alive. 

Instead of looking at brands as fixed entities, we see them as living breathing things– as complex, flexible, and ever-changing as the humans that bring them to life. So we thought, what better way to understand the forces that drive vitality in living things than to look to nature as an example? We studied six completely different systems within nature for guidance. We explored the challenges and opportunities that surface when navigating the tensions between independent and interdependent energy, singular and collective purpose, generalization and specialization, centralized and decentralized structures, and so much more. 

Our goal is to create space for inspiration and reflection at an individual, organizational, and community level. It’s the beginning of an exploration of how brands might scale with vitality in mind. We believe that if brands become more conscious of the interdependence between individuals, organizations, and communities, they will better adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of their inner and outer worlds.

What better way to understand the forces that drive vitality in living things than to look to nature as an example?

What if the answers are all around?

Fractals: Fractals are present everywhere in nature. Imagine noticing the branches of a tree on a morning walk. The branches start from the trunk and move outwards. As they branch, they get smaller in size but remain the same in architecture. In nature, this is called a self-similar structure; in other words, the smallest unit is the “same” as the biggest, repeating endlessly through the organism at different scales.

If fractals are the structure itself, emergence is the outcome of fractals. It is the realization that interdependent parts create a larger and more complex whole. Adrienne Maree Brown writes, “Emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies.” Emergence means realizing we cannot exist in a silo. We are part of a complex web of interactions and relationships – interpersonal and environmental. The patterns in the smallest fractal impact the structure of the whole organism. In this way, fractals can be used to understand and predict future outcomes.

Reimagine the tree we already discussed. Consider that one of the smaller branches is now infected. Even though this is a single, small piece of the tree, it is likely that the whole tree will soon be sick. We may try to silo things, but the odds are that the good, the bad, and the ugly present in one part of an organism, organization, or individual will eventually show up in the whole.

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc): What parts of who you are (the good and the bad), are being knowingly and unknowingly infused into your business (and brand!)? How are these same characteristics impacting your leadership? 
  2. Brand/Organization (as a whole): What patterns are showing up in various parts of your organization and how can those be seen as indicators of organizational connectivity (or lack thereof)? Can we use this information to make small changes that will reverberate across the whole organization?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): When a need or shift arises in the culture, many organizations pop up as a response. How might you see brands similar to yours as individual fractals of the same problem, and harness that collective power to collaborate rather than compete?

Mitochondria. If you’re having flashbacks to high school biology, we’re right there with you. Here’s a quick refresher: Mitochondria are the powerhouses of most plant, animal, and human cells. They’re responsible for converting the food we eat and the air we breathe into a chemical called ATP, which is responsible for storing and releasing energy where needed. This process, in turn, helps our cells grow, repair, divide, and operate. 

All that to say, mitochondrial health is essential to living a life of vitality. An imbalance in mitochondrial function (excess growth, insufficient repair) leads to inflammation. And chronic inflammation increases our susceptibility to fatigue and disease. Stress and burnout, as well as chronic disease (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.), have been skyrocketing in recent years. All of these diseases are unified by their origins: extremely high rates of cellular inflammation.

During inflammation, mitochondria switch from being energy producers to making toxic products that end up promoting even more inflammation. Continued inflammation triggers a response that our biology perceives as a threat. The threat triggers our cells to enter scarcity mode, where they begin to hoard resources to ensure survival. In this self-focused state, we ditch decision-making that promotes longevity in exchange for short-term rewards. Mitochondria at their best give us life, mitochondria at their worst, cause us to self-protect and degenerate. 

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc.):  Where might you be prioritizing excess growth over sufficient repair (essentially creating inflammation in your body)?
  2. Brand/Organization (as a whole): The parts of the body that require more energy have more mitochondria (i.e. the brain and kidney). How effectively are energy and resources distributed within your organization? Are the parts that require the most energy sufficiently supported to maintain the growth and repair process? Where might your organization be inflamed (growth without repair, prioritizing shorter-ism, hoarding resources, etc.)?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): How is your vitality or lack thereof impacting the energy you give to those around you?  What external influences might be creating inflammation?

There’s freedom in trusting our own intuition 

A harmful byproduct of giving our attention away is that we lose sight of our own intuition. In order to trust our intuition, we have to nurture it first. That means clearing the cobwebs, confronting our conditioning, breaking through limiting beliefs, dancing with fear, hanging out with our inner child, and taking responsibility for ourselves and the lives we want to lead. 

It means recognizing that our society isn’t necessarily designed to help us trust our intuition, and working daily to ensure that our inner voice has a chance to be heard. When we do that, it opens us up to a world free of limits and invites us to play.

True expression is more powerful than any trend 

For the bottom line and for our souls. Listening to our intuition leads us to truth - or at least, what is true for us. It means ignoring the noise and following your own wisdom. It means creating from a place of not looking at the white-hot space or the latest trends and instead rooting in your own inspiration - no matter how wacky, unconventional, unclear, or uncomfortable it is.

Most of life happens not at the extremes, but in the messy middle 

Humans are imperfect, complex, contradictory creatures. Businesses are imperfect, complex, contradictory creatures. What if we let ourselves embrace that?

We have to be better at acknowledging the mess. Stop obsessing over perfection and binary thinking, and pretending we have everything figured out. Stop canceling one another and instead lead each other back to responsibility, with honesty and compassion. 

It’s time for new definitions of success, ones that help us live fully and connect deeply 

What is success? What is happiness? What is well-being? We loosely chase these things our whole lives, but do we have a shared understanding of what they mean? Or at the very least, what they mean to each of us?

When we start to ask ourselves these questions, we see that our vision of success, happiness, and well-being might look different than our neighbor’s. We’re fascinated by a world where this is celebrated instead of endlessly measuring people from all walks of life against the same empty benchmarks.

You might be wondering, what in the world does this have to do with building brands? And in short, the answer is…everything.

In between the individual and the systemic, there’s a force that has incredible power to shape how we think, how we act, what we value, and what we aspire to. And for the last century, that force has only been getting stronger. Our organizations - what we give most of our days and most of our attention to - have the ability to steer us toward a future that’s most nourishing for us all. If we choose to see it that way.

The truths above can be read at a personal level, or at a brand level. To us, returning to them over and over again is our best course forward.

A little reminder: Everything you see here in the library written by us, is in process. In order to imagine new worlds, we have to give ourselves the freedom to create without the pressure of perfection. We don’t have all the answers, and no one does. But our ability to explore freely is paramount to ever finding them. 

Mycelium. There’s so much we still don’t know about fungi, and yet what we’re beginning to learn is having an illuminating effect on how we might heal our bodies, change our minds, build organizations, and navigate environmental disasters.

The fungi we are most familiar with are mushrooms, which are actually the fruiting bodies of multicellular filaments known as hyphae that branch in all directions, creating entangled networks called mycelia. 

A deeper understanding of mycelium was propelled into our culture by biologist and author of Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake. According to Sheldrake, mycelium is the tissue that holds most of our natural world together. It weaves through the soil and breaks down the organic matter in living and decaying material (plant and animal), converting it into nutrients for absorption and cultivating healthier soil. While it searches for nutrients, it sends a signal that enables other filaments nearby to make their way toward the nourishment it finds, and the cycle continues.

The pathways that are formed by the filaments ensure the survival of the collective, yet should one piece be broken off and separated, it carries the intelligence to regenerate a whole new network. The attunement to the collective, responsiveness to the environment, and orientation towards nourishment that mycelium displays provide inspiration for enhancing flexibility, connection, and flourishment in our organizations and communities.

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc):  How attuned are you to the needs of those around you? What needs do you share with others that can be met together? 
  2. Organization (as a whole): If 99% of your organization was destroyed, and only the essential 1% remained, what would that essence be? How would it regenerate anew?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): How might the work you do be a catalyst for nourishing the entire network around you? What wisdom or nutrients might you return to your ecosystem for the overall strengthening and intelligence of your network?

Slime molds: Slime molds, contrary to any association you may have with lime green Nickelodeon goo, often exhibit vibrant colors like bright yellow or orange, thriving in diverse environments such as rotting wood, garden beds, cow dung, and even the sides of buildings. These remarkable organisms, akin to fungi, function as decomposers and recyclers.

Acellular slime molds, visible to the naked eye, form a singular cell with multiple nuclei, resembling intricate patterns akin to mycelium or tree branches (fractals!). Despite their fungal and plant likeness, categorizing slime molds proves challenging, as they are eukaryotic organisms defying classification as plants, animals, or fungi.

Much like mycelium, these tendrils collectively compose the organism's intelligence system. Scientists, captivated by the efficient and decentralized network formation, problem-solving capabilities, and inherent resilience of slime molds, have explored their applications in diverse fields. From unraveling the dynamics of disease spread, such as COVID-19, to optimizing complex systems like the Tokyo subway, slime molds have become invaluable models. 

In Tokoyo, researchers strategically placed food sources at major hubs in and around the city, allowing the collective intelligence of slime molds to naturally chart the most efficient pathways. This experiment has elevated slime molds as models for designing flexible and reliable decentralized systems, showcasing their valuable insights for the strengthening of various human-made systems. 

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc): In what ways are you defining yourself that are oversimplifying who you are and holding you back? How is your reality a bit more complicated and nuanced? 
  2. Organization (as a whole): In what ways, might you acknowledge the blurriness between verticals in your business (i.e. that marketing is served by working with HR and engineering)? In other words, how might you benefit from removing department boundaries to better move as a choreography of signals working towards one goal?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): How can your organization contribute to the resilience of your community by tapping into its power as a collective intelligence system? What partnerships can be made to solve community challenges and opportunities?

Mosses: Mosses, the flowerless green wonders you see in forests and city streets, have thrived across a spectrum of climates, from deserts to rainforests, for an impressive 450 million years. The moss kingdom boasts between 12,000 to 25,000 known species, each contributing to the mosaic of colors and forms that cover the world’s diverse landscapes. These unassuming plants play a vital role in absorbing nutrients and water while simultaneously detoxifying our Earth. Their absorptive prowess makes them bioindicators.

In essence, bioindicators are Mother Nature's health detectives. Mosses, with their single layers of cells adept at absorbing their surroundings, stand as trusted and easily accessible allies for researchers. Mosses, particularly sensitive to changes, become reliable indicators of the health of our surroundings. We can partner with them in different ways to check for harmful environmental cues. The concentration of toxic elements in mosses can be found in two areas: on the plant’s surface (via dust retention) or within the plant (via the absorption of substances). Whether it's alterations in shape, shifts in density, or their existence in specific geographies, mosses provide a tangible measure of an area's air quality. Just as we observe mosses to discern signs of environmental health, so too can we develop our own indicators for gauging the vitality—or lack thereof—of our surroundings. 

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc): How are the relationships you’ve built around yourself indicators of your own health and the way you view yourself?
  2. Organization (as a whole): Can you identify the first indicators that something in your organization is going wrong or “polluted”? For example, is an increasing number of employees showing up later for work an indicator of declining job satisfaction?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): How did your organization arise from indicators within your community or environment? Can you recognize those and then attune to how they are changing so you can stay flexible and adaptive as an organization?

Bees. It’s no secret that bees are essential to our survival. Known as nature’s architects, they promote the health and prosperity of a multitude of ecosystems and are responsible for pollinating one out of every three bites of food we eat.

All of this impressive work is made possible by the highly meticulous and intentional design of the bee colony. Think of a bee hive as a highlight efficient, waste-free, multigenerational home and office for 80,000 family members. The bee leading the charge is the queen bee, responsible for both reproduction and the release of a chemical pheromone that binds the entire colony together. Working alongside the queen are drone and worker bees. Drone bees are the male bees, primarily responsible for mating with the queen. Worker bees are given highly specialized and individual tasks depending on their age, including but not limited to nest building, food collection, nursing, and brood rearing.  

The growth and survival of the hive very clearly rely on the entire bee colony, rather than any individual bee. No one bee can truly survive on its own. But together, they ensure the sustenance of the hive and the hives that spawn from it. By recognizing their own unique strengths and abilities, they build an interdependency within the collective that unlocks the hive’s potential. This deliberate collaboration, scaled across the population of bees ultimately results in an outsized contribution to global biodiversity and the survival of a large majority of plant and animal life.

  1. Self (Founder, employee, etc):  What’s your genius or role that only you can perform within your organization?
  2. Organization (as a whole): How clearly defined are the roles and sense of individual purpose within your organization? How might increased specialization contribute to strengthened teamwork and interdependency?
  3. Community (stakeholders, community members, environment): How does your organization’s unique purpose and mission contribute to the wider ecosystem it is a part of? How might it better collaborate with other organizations to further its reach and impact?

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