Who would win in a battle between a unicorn and a zebra? The zebra, for it has so many black belts! With that (stellar) joke out of the way, this article aims to provide you with an instruction manual for growing a Zebra business and share how we’re thinking about it at Learn Biomimicry.
Step 1: Know your species and ecosystem
Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other. Zebras aim to do both good and make money and does not view these objectives as mutually exclusive.
Can an organisation stand for both strong returns and positive social impact? Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Bloom Institute of Technology (aka Lambda), The Sun Exchange, Warby Parker, Kickstarter, and are a good start. Blending a for-profit model with social improvement creates an epic flywheel effect that’s easy to love, and the world does indeed need many more of these. The growth direction of a Zebra isn’t exponential, but rather regenerative. Additionally, a focus on user success and quality (above quantity) is what makes a Zebra business stand out.
A Zebra company adopts an alternative business model to the famed ‘unicorn’ businesses. Unicorns are typically categorized as ‘disruptive’ businesses with high valuations ($1 billion+), mostly playing a zero-sum game for market share, and with a focus on exponential growth at all costs. In contrast, a Zebra company aims for regenerative growth, sustainable profits, and a plurality of outcomes for market players.
Further, and to state the obvious, “unlike unicorns, zebras are real. Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in a stronger collective output. Zebra companies are built [grown] with peerless stamina and capital efficiency” - as long as conditions allow them to create conditions conducive to life (read thrive).
Step 2: Complete your checklist of what's needed
Image Credit: Zebras Unite
Step 3: Build your values
Growing a Zebra company requires identifying and leading with the right values. In our view, the values of a Zebra business model are enabled by following the principles found in nature.
Image credit: Biomimicry 3.8
The Biomimicry Life Principles are design lessons and strategies from nature which have evolved over 3.8 billion years and continue to adapt. What are these?
However, being led by Biomimicry’s Life’s Principles and nature’s values doesn’t make you a saint. Nature is not perfect, nor does it pretend to be. Sometimes things fail, but nature adapts and evolves to survive, replicating strategies that work, and discarding those that don’t. Be warned though that these principles do involve making business sacrifices, and are contained in the limits of the earth's operating conditions (a discussion for another article).
Step 4: Iterate, collaborate and learn from others
Learn Biomimicry is not building a machine, we’re growing an organism. Today we’re building a zebra, but in a decade we could evolve into something completely different! We aim to enable those we work with to consistently create conditions conducive to life. Through replicating strategies that work and discarding those that don’t, Learn Biomimicry shall evolve to survive (and thrive).
“The future is to be created, not predicted”
- said in 1963 by Dennis Gabor, Nobel laureate for his invention of the holograph
The future of business involves thinking outside (of the box). The world does not need business as usual. The climate and ecological anxiety you and I feel today ask us to rethink humanity's approach - to how humanity shows up and how we do business. Our global challenges cannot be solved with the same paradigm of thinking that created them. They also cannot be solved by waiting for other individuals or philanthropic organizations to do it. The task has been delegated to us!
The businesses of today need a change of perspective, a new model - why not use nature? Why not consider biomimicry? By looking to nature for inspiration, thousands of individuals and organizations around the world are redefining the way that humanity thinks, designs and does business – to be more resilient, adaptive and regenerative.
For us at Learn Biomimicry business is about valuing nature in a whole new way. It’s business unusual for us, we’re different (and that’s okay). Learn Biomimicry aims to enable nature-inspired people to create conditions conducive to a flourishing life. We’re distributed (not remote) and seek to make biomimicry applicable, affordable and accessible.
Thanks for reading.
Managing Director of Learn Biomimicry
PS - Before you go here is a free ebook to start your Biomimicry learning journey
Research credit: Zebras fix what unicorns break — the introductory article written by the founders of the Zebras Unite movement