Monoculture is Death

If life is diversity, then monoculture is death, if not just dead boring. Can you say potato famine? Up to 1.5 million people dead, because of a monoculture! With crops, companies or cultures, lack of diversity is never a good idea. My girlfriend is a foodie and we were watching a Michael Pollan documentary, The Botany of Desire a few nights ago. I learned that 99.9 % of apple orchards, in the west, are monocultures, they don’t grow from seeds, they grow from cloning – watch the movie or read the book if you want to know more. We have similar issues with potatoes; most potatoes in the US are the same strain. Why is this bad? 

If you grow a crop without sexual reproduction, you’ve cut out evolution from the growing process. Which means you get reliable and predictable results, not bad right? The bad part is that the things that are trying to eat your crops, molds, bacteria, insects and other pests are evolving and since all of the crops in a field, a town or in some cases the entire country are the same, one effective pest could kill the entire crop, nationwide before anyone had time to react.

We use pesticides to keep these pests away from our crops. There are farms and orchards that are diversifying their crops, but not many and some people are using GMO crops to introduce evolutionary advantages into mono-crops. Most of these folks are beholding to agra business and have to grow what the market wants to buy. 

I’m using crops as a metaphor. The same is true for cultures and companies. When a company is run in a command and control fashion, a hand full of people, say a mono-leadership is making most of the decisions. Companies that run this way have built in limitations that restrict their sustainability. Diversity of leadership and vision leads to transparency and innovation. 

I started thinking about connecting the monoculture issue we have in the farming industry with issues we are having with businesses after reading Steven Johnson’s new book, Where Good Ideas Come From. The book contrasts evolution with innovation and draws many parallels between how Mother Nature and humans innovate - the similarities are striking.