SEC: The world of plants and that of enterprises in dialogue

The SEC seminar "Sister Plant: inspirations from the plant world for capitalism and the future of businesses" was held at the Lionello Bonfanti. There were about 60 participants.

by Antonella Ferrucci

161130 Loppiano SEC Azienda vegetale 10 ridAn experiment unique in its kind was held at Loppiano this past 30 November: two worlds that seemingly would have nothing to say to each other - that of plants and that of enterprises (neurobiology and economy) - entered in dialogue, contaminating each other, looking for ideas to imagine innovative forms of enterprise and business models; models that do not flee in the face of challenges, but remain rooted in their territory and restart from these roots.

Plants, unlike animals, are organisms that chose to evolve in a sedentary way, by taking root at the beginning of time: as 161130 Loppiano SEC Azienda vegetale 06 rida consequence they developed the ability to survive the predators of the place where they have grown, unlike animals that flee from them. This was explained by botanist Stefano Mancuso, pointing out that this may happen because the plants have built a modular body, devoid of individual organs, in which each part can make up for all functions: even if a herbivore predator or fire engulfs most of a plant, it can survive and start over again. You can also speak of a real and existing "intelligence of the plants": the most recent studies have shown that plants are able to communicate between them and with the environment that surrounds them, they can remember, make choices and solve problems with refined strategies. There is a clear difference in approach when compared to the animal world that has evolved through the creation of specialized body organs: if one of these is hit, the animal cannot survive.  It is interesting to note - said Mancuso in conclusion - that the plant world manages to innovate because "it is not hierarchical."

161130 Loppiano SEC Azienda vegetale 11 ridWhat does all this suggest to the business world? Even if the traditional enterprise has been following the animal model in its strategic, specialized and hierarchical organization, - said Luigino Bruni -, there are also some business models that are more similar to the organization of the plant world, such as cooperatives, in which each member has in him/herself the ability to regenerate the organization in the territory in which it operates.  Luigino Bruni also found the relationship between the hierarchy and innovation significant: hierarchical organizations are more efficient but not very innovative; that's why subsidiarity is important in businesses, where the ones who have more ability to innovate and solve problems are the ones who work on those same problems, and not those coming from outside.

An interesting point made by Bruni: "But is there no solidarity in the world of plants? Do they help each other?".161130 Loppiano SEC Azienda vegetale 02 rid Mancuso responded by telling about a series of experiments that show how networks in the plant world are essential for the survival of the smallest and the weakest ones. Plants resist and live much longer than animals because the goal of the vegetable world is for the species survive, and not the individual.

The presentations by Stefano Mancuso and Luigino Bruni and the dialogue that followed aroused keen interest and wide reflection among the participants of the seminar. The dialogue between these two seemingly distant worlds will certainly continue and there will be future occasions for in-depth discussions.

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