Symbiosis in LO LO11219

Thomas Benjamin (
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 12:08:21 +0500 EST

Replying to LO11124 --

Joining in on this interesting conversation on Symbiosis that started with
probably LO11124 by AT?

In nature, symbiosis is one of the several mechanisms that seem to keep
the ecosystem in balance. Naturalists and biologists have added
considerable knowledge to help us understand how the ecosystem is kept in
a balance. I think there is much that we can learn from this principle to
help us design organisations. I agree with the views expressed here that
suggest, the three types of symbiosis mutual, comensal and parasitical
require an environment that connects and links the different types to make
the concept meaningful in an organisational context.

The concept is worth pondering over to gain valuable insights. For
instance, in nature, it is designed that some are parasitical while others
are mutual. In the long run they keep the ecosystem in place. Nature does
not assign a value to this behaviour. However, in human relationship, we
find paracitical transactions undesirable. On face value, yes, it is
undesirable. On the other hand I wonder if it is more appropriate to
consider in human systems, expected behaviour as a more realistic way of
defining the nature of symbiosis. For instance, an invalid relative or
colleague may be in a paracitical relationship, but is that not expected?
Isn't it the role of the host to give till it hurts?

I notice that in nature, it was man who for economic reasons intervened to
eliminate the paracitic creeper from its host to save the crop of say,
mangoes. So too in organisations, if relationships are seen only as for
economic ends, then certain relationships could be assigned as
paracitic/mutual/comensal. I think in an organisation in persuit of
learning, it has to learn not only to survive in the market place but also
to make it a community. In healthy communities, I presume we see greater
tolerence to the comensal and paracitic symbiosis. I infer from this
reflection of what nature has to teach us about symbiosis is that we need
to employ the whole person and not just the persons economic usefulness.

I know, what I have said has no meaning to shareholders and other
significant stakeholders. For the present it is only a thought. The
challenge I think is to find ways of making this thought workable.

A useful starting point maybe the self. Individuals in learning
organisations would endeavour to make themselves aware of the nature of
relationships between for instance, internal customer-supplier diads.
Dialogue on the expectations, be clear of the outcome of this relationship
and test the outcome of this relationship (irrespective of the nature of
symbiosis) for its benefit to the whole system. The two learning
disciplines that come into this most prominantly are the personal mastery
and systems thinking. The basis of this suggestion is that for whole
system effectiveness negetive outcome relationships are also necessary.
Isn't that what nature is doing?

This was only a reflection. Sorry for this long monologue. In some
places the language is advocating - too premature, please ignore the


Thomas P Benjamin
Institute of Rural Management
PB No 60
Anand 388 001 India


"Thomas Benjamin" <>

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