One of my favorite TV shows is HBO's Six Feet Under. For those of you who are not familiar with it, it's about a family that runs a funeral business. At the beginning of each episode there is a death (based on a real-life one apparently). In the last series, one of the deaths involves a man hiking in the hills of LA. He stops hiking for a moment to check his pulse, glances out at the beautiful view in front of him, and smiles ... just before a cougar jumps out of the wild and mauls him to death.
Later, one of the undertakers tells another how the man died, and he responds by saying 'ecotone'.
An ecotone is a transition space between the wilderness and civilisation. It's essentially an area where two habitats meet, or in this case, collide. They can be dangerous which, for some, also make them strangely attractive. If we stretch our imagination a little we will see ecotones beyond the ecological. All around us. Every day. The spaces between work and life, the overlaps between organisations and their external environments, the places where employees and customers meet or the transition between current and future states.
The edges of an ecotone can be narrow, and obvious. From an ecological perspective this may be a sharp line of changed vegetation such as where a field meets a forest, or the small village at the base of a volcano. Borrowing from this concept, the narrow, obvious edges of our 'business ecotones' would include social media (where employees and customers interact), between silos (where expertise and self interest collide) or simply the security door between the outside door and where we do our work inside.
Sometimes the distance is wider, more complex and less obvious. From an ecological perspective this may be acres and acres of gradual vegetational change. Or, in our business ecotones, the slow changes in customer expectations, enterprise wide long-term cultural change or the longer-term impacts of advances in technology. The type of transitions that we are often deep within before we notice things have changed.
New 'ways of being' create new possibilities, and new possibilities create 'new ways of being'.
Communities and populations change in ecotones. Referred to as the 'edge effects', the mingling of species makes them get a little creative. New kinds of diverse species are born, such as digital futurists, tribe coaches, change leaders, diversity managers, service designers and people with an 'x' in their title. Just as new 'ways of being' create new possibilities, new possibilities create 'new ways of being'.
Whether you love the wilderness, or prefer the familiarity of civilisation, ecotones are, without doubt, interesting places to hang out. And while you may get mauled by a wild animal, or an angry colleague, these transitional spaces are full of the most diverse, interesting kinds of experiences and species. They make wandering over to the edges entirely worthwhile.
I'll meet you there.
Guest post for Aquarius HR Consulting's 'Guest Room' at aquariushrconsulting.com
Image by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash