To learn how to create sustainable growth, it’s unnecessary to compare yourself to fast-growing unicorns.

Instead, look out your window and take inspiration from the humble oak tree and its acorns.

Trees have been thriving on our planet for hundreds of millions of years, so they are the perfect example of growing in uncertain times. Oak trees, in particular, have much to teach us about cultivation, opportunity, and progression.

A snippet from Henrik Werdelin’s session during the Innov8rs Connect Unconference, June-September 2020. To watch the full session recording, join Innov8rs Community with a Content or Premium Pass.

Acorns are fascinating organisms. They are a small unit, but they are chock full of resources and DNA. Each acorn comes with a specific mandate: grow quickly, and grow up. If they fail to accomplish these commands, they will die. Oak trees have incredible root systems that allow them to find the most fertile ground. Here is where they drop their acorns to give them the highest likelihood of success. Acorns that do manage to sprout and develop into mighty oak trees will eventually reach the limit of how high they can grow. To regenerate, they grow wider. Instead of building a taller tree, they become a forest.

Businesses can learn a lot from the acorn and the oak tree.

Just as an acorn has different DNA within it, all working toward the same goal, it’s important to realize that there needs to be different DNA within an organization. The people who are making sprouts are different from those who are creating branches, which are different from the ones making sure the tree gets bigger.

It’s equally important to make sure the structure built around this talent is the right environment for them to reach their highest potential. Solitary trees that aren’t part of a forest grow faster, but they also don’t live as long. So businesses must branch out from within, creating their very own forest of different products or services. Like the mother tree, strong systems must be in place to support all of these new initiatives.

Interestingly, trees accelerate their ability to regenerate when they feel they’re about to die. When the mother tree is in danger, oak trees will deploy more acorns to the most fertile ground.
Most businesses do the opposite when they see failure on the horizon. In many cases, if a company knows a product has disappointing sales, they throw even more resources at it.

But what they’re actually doing is wasting time, effort, and capital on a lost cause. They should look for the acorns sprouting the tallest and strongest, and support them instead. Businesses need to find ways to regenerate and branch out, or they risk disappearing for good.

This is a piece from The Innovator’s Handbook 2021. If you’re keen to dive into the best and latest on corporate innovation, request your copy here. To discuss anything Business Design join our upcoming Innov8rs Connect online event, 7-11 December.