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What Nature Can Teach Business About Strategy In The Face of Big Change

By Anne-Marie Daniel

I was arriving late to a Roy Group strategy session. Cozy and small, our session was situated in a fishing hut by the beach in Port Renfrew. I found myself wanting to get my head in the game, but I was feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of all the work that would come out of it.

I arrived in the middle of a discussion that sent my mind spinning within minutes. I knew I didn’t have the right focus, so I asked for another 20 minutes to myself before rejoining. I headed down to the beach to get grounded in the place and my mind in the zone.

The wild west coast stole my heart in seconds. The power of the December wind, the taste of the salt and the heartbeat crash of the surf changed the chemistry in my body to fresh in an instant. A new kind of chaos emerged within my being as my senses took in all of the dynamics around me.

Beach grasses thrashing around in the strong winds caught my eye. Some blades were as tall as me. I put out my hand to catch one, and studied it as it lay in my palm. This blade of grass has to deal with some pretty rugged conditions, I thought. Wind. Being covered in salt water. Getting hammered by pounding waves.

The whole intertidal zone is in a constant state of transition. It’s the place where saltwater meets sweet, or fresh, water. Older salmon return and young ones venture out. Nutrients from the land and the ocean are exchanged and complement each other.


These are massive forces that we’re having to take on and absorb, I thought. What can I learn from these intertidal grasses?


Science[1] shows that beach grasses and seagrasses absorb a lot of wave energy and protect the land that lies along the ocean. They hold the shifting sands while conferring numerous other benefits, like water filtration and a food chain, in addition to dampening big wave energy.

My examination of the seagrass led me to realize that the creatures living here need to have a strategy or two to thrive in such an intense transition zone. The seashore can be a tough place to live.

I started thinking about shock absorption in terms of our company, and needing a strategy to be resilient to all the different kinds of changes that we’re going through. The last year has meant big changes in workload, missing social connection, economic hits, waves of COVID, and heart-heavy social unrest. These are massive forces that we’re having to take on and absorb, I thought. What can I learn from these intertidal grasses?

As my mind relaxed, I started to recognize some of Nature’s strategies around me.

Intertidal grasses’ strength comes from their flexibility and resilience.
They’re not big and strong. They’re thin and flexible so they can bend with the wind and the waves. When they get flattened, they spring back because of that flexibility. They are buoyant and filled with air. So, flexibility and the atmosphere inside them is key to their resilience. What does our business need to do to be flexible in structure and maintain a buoyant atmosphere inside?

No one blade of grass tries to go it alone.
The grass in my hand was just one part of a clump of blades of grass, all being flexible and working together with several other clumps. Together, they hold the sands from moving, and provide a safe haven that protects a much bigger community of shorebirds, animals and insects, allowing these creatures to live the good life close to all the riches of the intertidal zone and the coastal wetland ecosystem.

Coastal wetland ecosystems are networked in partnerships that create value for the community and that share the abundance
. The intertidal zone is a place that is rich in nutrients flowing down from the rivers and coming in from the sea. The coastal wetland ecosystem captures these nutrients with a network of critical partnerships, holding strong together and sharing what they have. Human examples include when businesses team up with not-for-profits to provide greater benefit to the economic ecosystem — or when a municipality partners with an outside expert whose services are useful across several streams of municipal functioning. This networking of partnerships is what makes it possible to withstand bigger hits. What are the ways that we can stay connected, create value, and share what is needed, so that we can engage evolutionary change — even in the face of disturbance?

Seagrasses create a safe place to be and grow.
Just under the water’s edge, seagrasses create safe harbour for new salmon who have just come down the stream. This is where they’ll remain for a while, growing strong and mustering up the courage to head out on their three-year journey to the deep ocean. On the other hand, returning salmon, exhausted from their trip back inland, rest in these same communities of grasses, gaining sustenance before heading up the stream they were born in to start the next generation. How does our network of partnerships create a safe space for new arrivals to gain confidence and for experienced talent to recharge before they take on the next big piece of work?

We need each other and we should work together.
Probably the biggest piece of work we share with beach grass is about creating a good life and a healthy world community. Coastal wetlands, especially when not interfered with — i.e., given the space to do their work — employ crucial strategies to reversing global warming by capturing vast amounts of carbon, known as blue carbon.[2] Nature balances the atmosphere through living communities like coastal wetlands — essential natural communities that work synergistically to remove certain ingredients from circulation, like excess carbon, and make important resources, like oxygen, more available to us all. Doing our part to work with Nature on her global blue carbon strategy is essential to our survival and quality of life. What are we doing as a business community to keep helpful resources and learning circulating while safely retiring unhelpful materials, models and ways of thinking?

Returning to the strategy session…

I closed the sliding glass door behind me and entered the silence of the fishing hut with its crackling fire and deep-thinking people. I threw a couple pebbles on the table along with my two cents of strategy. “We just gotta stay flexible, keep a good atmosphere, remember our partners, share the good stuff, and make time and space to watch the grass grow.”



How can we work together with coastal wetlands to reverse global warming?  Roy Group donates 1% of its profits to organizations that work directly for the planet, such as Sea Change Marine Conservation Society, which engages communities along the BC coast in restoring coastal ecosystems with a focus on beach and seagrasses.



[1] In 2019, MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering Heidi Nepf and doctoral student Jiarui Lei studied the scale of a seagrass meadow relative to its effect in dampening wave energy. They found that submerged aquatic vegetation, including seagrass, provides an overall value of more than $4 trillion globally every year in preventing beach erosion, protecting seawalls and other structures, improving water quality, providing habitat, and sequestering carbon to help limit future climate change. Read article

[2] Project Drawdown, a book of 82 solutions to eliminate 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050, enough to prevent the dangerous climate tipping point of 2 degrees Celsius. These solutions would cost less and produce more jobs than “business as usual”. The strategy of protecting and restoring coastal wetlands is #52 in this comprehensive plan to put the biosphere back on track by 2050.


Anne-Marie Daniel is a partner at Roy Group and lead of NatuR&D, a consultancy that helps people create the solutions they want to see in the world, as guided by Nature’s wisdom.