new perspective

Circle Back: Valuable Lessons in Getting Back to Nature

A Montessorial approach to nature, in which the interconnectedness of simple structures is considered, can deepen an understanding and appreciation of many more seemingly complex principles and/or operations within a multitude of fields from business to medicine.

I saw a program on NOVA the other night, the topic of which was "Nanoarchitecture" and it was fascinating to learn that when you reduced the size of a gold particle (to the size of nanometers) you get completely different optical properties. Gold is no longer "gold" in color when taken to the 13 nanometer size. It's ruby red in color. 


"...when a particle of gold is made very small...below 100 nanometers, the smaller the particle, the more it begins to absorb shorter wavelengths of light. Toward the blue end of the spectrum..and the redder it appears. When light rays hit a colored material some rays are absorbed and some are reflected."

-Chad Merkin and David  Pogue Nova Series "Making Things Smaller"

The series also discussed "Structural Color...(as found in the iridescence of butterfly wings, beetle shells and peacock feathers). "Once you discover those new properties of nanoparticles, it almost always leads to new applications." Once such application is a new process of sequencing DNA / testing for genetic variations which is capable of being completed in less than 2hrs. One of the experiments which led to this DNA testing breakthough was one in which equal amounts but different shapes of silver nanoparticles were dissolved in vials of water. Different colored liquids were created based solely on the shape of those silver particles. Silver rods turned the water yellow, silver triangles turned the water green and silver prisms turned the water blue. These newly discovered reactions of nanoparticles were used to help develop the test that enables chromosomal abnormalities to be highlighted upon addition of similarly altered nanoparticles to a DNA sample.

There is tremendous value when a parent or business owner is reminded, through a Montessorial observation of the natural world, that visually observed characteristics of things (or people) can be variables depending on applied forces and independent perspectives...and that those observed characteristics don't necessarily dictate substance. Not only does this promote a wider-view perspective but it also reinforces the value in seeking possible factors outside of one's initial consideration. 

If you pause long enough to take a much broader view of your child's development or of your business' operations, you may be fortunate enough to recognize that the natural world and the business world are inexorably bound due to the fact that we ourselves, regardless of how technical our tools or how complex our lives, are merely components born of and operating within the same kingdom as the elephant and the honeybee.


After a small amount of research, I quickly learned that applying holistic and systemic approaches to business, social or educational organizations based on principles in nature is not, by any stretch, new thinking... but has certainly been gaining more traction over the last few years.

Business Reinvention with Nancy Lin discusses the fact that scientists and technologists are uncovering innovative ideas and borrow efficient designs from nature. She answers the question: “Does nature offer leadership lessons that can help us manage the increasing level of uncertainty, speed of change and limited resources to achieve such business transformation?" in her January 6th interview with the Denise DeLuca, co-founder and director of BCI, Biomimicry for Creative Innovation.



Alan Moore, author of No Straight Lines discusses the fact that a non-linear world is one in which we embrace the power and potential of complexity rather than trying to break it down into unconnected bits and that we see the world systemically. A non-linear world is where we have the capacity and the tools (which already exist) to transform our organizations commercially and non-commercially to work with the grain of human nature not against it that run leaner, more efficiently, and are greener. 

Giles Hutchins’ blog, The Nature of Business (one of my newest favorites) is exploring similar understandings of the interconnectedness of all things in nature and writes:

"Knowledge of the core principles of how life works becomes a critical skill for business leaders and change agents wishing to successfully transform their organizations in these volatile times.  It is what  BCI (Biomimicry for Creative Innovation) calls ‘ecological thinking for radical transformation'."



Most people in business subscribe to an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with the volatile and globally interconnected business world.  What is required for the health and vitality of our businesses and economies is a radical shift in our perceptions, our thinking and our business behavior.  We are witnessing a change in the business paradigm from one suited for the industrial era to one suited for the interconnected era.

At the core of this paradigm shift is a perception shift from ‘seperatedness’ to ‘interconnectedness’.

Just as in science we have discovered that no longer can the universe be viewed as a machine composed of elementary building blocks, so too must we avoid the propensity to view organizations as atomized, silo’ed and tightly managed machines more then we need view them as vibrant, living organisms interacting within emergent, self-regulating and self-organizing business ecosystems."


  "Evolution is no longer seen as a competitive struggle for existence, but rather as a ‘cooperative dance in which creativity and the constant emergence of novelty are the driving forces"

-Fritjof Capra / Founding Director / The Centre for Ecoliteracy.


Ditto for business evolution and so business people need to shift perceptions from "...seeing isolated, competing aspects of the business environment to seeing the interconnected and emergent nature of the business reality ahead.”

And finally, Fortune Magazine’s Jennifer Alserver significantly contributed to this concept back in her March 2013 article titled “8 Lessons from the Birds and the Bees”:

“The burgeoning field of biomimicry, in which scientists copy nature to solve human problems, has drawn interest across industries -- from energy to consumer goods. 'There is a whole pipeline of people inventing by looking to the natural world', says Janine Benyus, founder of Biomimicry 3.8, a consultancy that has helped Colgate-Palmolive (CLFortune 500), Levis, Nike (NKEFortune 500) and Boeing (BAFortune 500) reformulate products using biomimicry  “.


Nicholas Sykes' TED X talk: - Biomimicry 2.0

I continue to discover new and exciting aspects of my business since adopting a more Montessorial perspective on any business venture. 

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New Lenses: Evaluating A Business' Process Management From A Montessorial Perspective

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In the book The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the five skills of disruptive innovators, the authors state, “Innovative break-throughs often happen at the intersection of diverse disciplines and fields.” It’s true, there is often merit in taking ideas and innovations from one industry and applying it to one that is unrelated. Travel writer, Giles Foden, has a “cinematic approach” to gain different perspectives in his writing; by varying the lenses through which Foden views the world, he captures the story he wants to tell. On a parallel plain, varying the lens, from wide-lens to zoom may have you seeing your business with fresh perspective.

Carmen Morgan – The Writing on The Wall

I enjoy discovering how things work. And Since I don’t have a job yet, I’ve been spending a lot of time observing business models (mostly retail) and finding a lot of value in looking at them from a “Montessorial perspective”…which is to say, deconstructing their most basic function(s) and then tracing the process backwards from the end of the customer experience back to the production process. It’s how I see my three year old daughter learning mathematics. Her Montessori teachers have broken math down to the core elements of: patience, dexterity, counting and the physical comprehension of quantity

Studying business operations is stimulating largely because of the challenge presented when conventional process systems are often broken to some degree and with a small amount of adjustment…what I like to call: “microfinement of process management”, you can usually find greater efficiency for the multitude of people any single transaction or service affects in it’s lifespan.

The challenging aspect of recognizing curable inefficiencies or identifying potential process improvements is the necessity to view the entire process from an “outside” and “far-sighted” perspective so that every degree of future impact separation can be considered from a distance like a position on a map.

I was going through my closet the other day when it occurred to me that although I was satisfied with the job my dry cleaner was doing with my clothes…all of my shirts seemed to be facing the wrong direction. Instead of the hooks of the hangers making a question mark…they opened to the opposite side (to the right). After trying to relocate the shirts on different bars throughout the closet, I realized that the only fix to this problem was to unbutton every shirt and put them back on the hangers after turning the hanger around so that the hooks of the hangers formed a question mark (opening to the left instead of to the right).

Every article of clothing my drycleaner hung (from my wife’s dresses to my sport jackets) faced the “wrong way”. On our recent move from Philadelphia to Sioux Falls, I had transported a few of shirts and suits that had been dry cleaned in Philadelphia and never came out of the dry cleaning plastic sheaths they were picked-up in.  While in the process of pairing shirts up with suits, I noticed that I was able to slide all of the suits still covered in plastic (from my Philadelphia drycleaner) to the right while standing on the left and viewing them from the front. When I placed a recently dry cleaned shirt in front of these particular suits, the shirt was facing away from me and I was unable to view the pairing as it would appear when worn.   

Thinking that this may just have been the standard operating procedure of one particular dry cleaner…and being happy with that dry cleaner, I made a mental note to ask them if it would be possible to put my shirts facing in the opposite direction upon my next visit.

It wasn't until several trips later to the dry cleaner that I remembered and had asked if it was possible for them to accommodate my peculiar request. The owner of the dry cleaner informed me that they were unable to change the direction of the hangers since all of the garments go through “a machine” and are all hung in the same direction. I tried to explain why I believed all of the shirts were being put on hangers facing in the wrong direction but I was not successful in effectively communicating my point. I dismissed this minor inconvenience like a man who continues to work with slightly broken tools…until I went to a new dry cleaner out of convenience before a trip out of town. I noticed they too had shirts and dresses hung in a similar fashion. 3 dry cleaners later it occurred to me that most every dry cleaner in town was hanging their shirts and what I had decided was the wrong direction. That should have been sufficient evidence that I was the one whose perspective required some adjustment...but regardless of how hard I tried to accept it, it still bothered me.

I mentioned this to a few friends who dismissed my attention to this minutia of detail as not only silly but also irrelevant and uninteresting. “Seriously?...Who cares?” they said. But my discomfort with this process intrigued me as if it were a puzzle…or a movie title I couldn't remember. I gave it some serious thought and realized that in a world where most of us are right hand dominant and in a country where we read from left to right it would make perfect sense that the clothing industry would display their garments in the manner I a way that was not only efficient but also enabled a consumer to envision themselves wearing the garments when sliding them left to right (as a mannequin would mirror them).  

I went to a few stores ranging from low to high-end (The Salvation Army, Target, Khols, The GAP, Macy’s, J.Crew, Brooks Bothers, Nordstrom, Saks 5th Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman). Every one of these retailers had their garments hung on  display racks in the same way. They were all hung so that you can move the items from left to right and quickly observe the shirt, dress, sweater or whatever, on the right hand side facing you as it would be in a mirror if you took the time to try it on. I was discussing this with an executive at Gap North America who told me that she had "spent some time in the fashion industry and explained that it was common knowledge, in retail, that the hanger should always be making a 'question mark' at the top when facing a customer in order to ensure uniformity. Not only on horizontal racks but on rounders [AKA: circular racks) and T-Racks as well. The reason being: so that whether right-handed customers are pulling the garments towards them or pushing the garments away, the garments are always facing the same direction and always 'mirroring' the [right-handed] customer." 

What these dry cleaners are doing by putting garments on hangers where the hook goes to the right instead of the left made me question why such a fundamental convenience was not availed to their customers. There was something to learn here in seeing how their system worked. It posed an interesting life-cycle of service opportunity to learn where the breakdown occurred and how I might prevent similar breakdowns in developing production management systems for restaurants… or for any service related business. I went back to my regular dry cleaner that week and told him that I once had an opportunity to work in a dry cleaner one summer as a boy and had always regretted it because of the mystery of what happens to the clothes when they go behind the wall. I told him that I found it very curious and asked if I could take a peek behind the curtain and see the Great and Powerful OZ. He agreed happily and even offered to show me how each station and each machine works. Not surprisingly, the entire process was a horse-shoe shaped assembly line that went from the left side of the store all the way around to the right of the store where the clothes were picked up. The clothes would travel this path of individual stations after being tagged and sorted by hand at the first station.

Some garments go to the laundering station and some skipped to the dry cleaning station (quite a machine!). After being cleaned, some go to the tailoring station while most go to the next station in a large canvas bin with wheels where they are fit over what looks like a large human figure / dummy. (Every dry cleaner has one and so they typically have a name. Theirs was named Suzie) Once the garment is fit over Suzie, the station operator steps on a large metal pedal that emits enough steam from within Suzie to puff out the garment and instantly steam it. After the steaming, some articles go to a long press and some go to a “hand-ironing” station. After each garment is steamed, pressed and or ironed, they are hung on hangers and pinned with a small numbered tag that corresponds to the number on the ticket originally given to the customer when they drop off their clothes. This whole process goes from left to right until the clothes are then bound together in sections with twisty ties and covered in plastic with the customer's receipt stapled to the plastic. The customer then picks up their order, pays and makes haste to their closet where the white noise of clothes hanging in the wrong direction ensues.

After my back stage tour, I explained how it all made sense to me why the garments were hung the direction they were on the hangers. I explained to the owner that it all made sense to me now and that I understood the garments are hung on the hangers the way they are because the assembly line moved from left to right and you always have the next station in the line receiving the garment from the left and facing them head-on….as is necessary. He smiled upon my “seeing the light” with an almost perceptible sense of satisfaction. I thanked him very much for my tour and left. What I didn’t share with him was that the problem with this process is that it values the employees’ need to see the garments in a convenient head-on fashion but not the end user or customers’ need to.

The owner of the dry cleaner mentioned, before I left, that if I was unhappy with the direction of the shirt on the hanger I could always change hangers as many other customers do. Not only do I find it hard to believe that even five percent of any dry cleaner’s customer are taking their shirts off of the wire hangers and putting them on some other sort of customized hanger in their closet, but if I had the time to do that, I’d probably be washing and pressing my own shirts.  

The easiest way to microfine this process is clearly for the owner/operator to change the direction of their assembly line from LEFT TO RIGHT to RIGHT TO LEFT. This would ensure everyone in-house and at home had the same advantage of viewing the garments in an advantageous fashion (pun intended).

This change would bear only a nominal expense of moving the machines and stations to the opposite side of the store. Doing this would maintain their current efficiency and likely increase their sales exponentially over time due to the fact that the service they are providing is largely identical to their competitors with one exception…they would have a growing base of customers who, perhaps inexplicably, prefer this dry cleaner over another even though they might not be cognizant as to precisely why. The fact, alone, that it would make a customer’s life even the tiniest bit easier, in my mind, is a strong enough case to change the conventional system this operator employs.

This one man’s kindness in offering me a behind-the-scenes  tour of his business, left me with an indelible reminder of the value in consciously considering the lifespan of any product or service beyond the initial point of transaction and the advantage of offering even the subtlest of convenience(s) for one’s customers in a competitive marketplace. 

Replication: A Few Interesting Similarities Between South Dakota and Pennsylvania

Far from being South Dakota's doppleganger, Philadelphia, PA has a population density 10xs greater than that of Sioux Falls, SD and is mentioned in way more songs... but there are some interesting similarities between the two.

Although Pennsylvania is aptly named for the amount of lush foliage and bucolic rolling tree-covered hills that more often call to mind more European landscapes than those of the open and primarily flat prairies of the Midwest; both states share a relatively similar size and shape.

The physical location of each state's major city: PA's Philadelphia and SD's Sioux Falls are not only located in the southeast corners of their respective state but also share the unique proximity to several other regional hubs a relatively short drive away. For Sioux Falls it's: Omaha, Nebraska,   Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minnesota  and Des Moines, Iowa whereas Philadelphia is proximal to: Wilmington, DE,   New York City,   Cherry Hill, New Jersey,  Baltimore, Maryland  and Washington, D.C. .

Both States have major "sister cities" a 5-6hr drive to the west. In Philadelphia it's Pittsburgh and in Sioux Falls, it's Rapid City. Both of which are the state's largest city closest to it's western boarders and neither one really has a hockey team.

Both states share significance with regards to historic battles (Indian Wars vs. Wars for Independence) and are home to some of America's most inspiring symbols of freedom and democracy as well...most notably: Mt. Rushmore, Independence Hall & The Liberty Bell. 

Both states also share some space with more socially (and electronically) independent sub-cultures of religious groups founded largely in-part by men named Jakob. In PA, the Jakob Ammann formed Amish & Mennonites and in SD, the Jakob Hutter founded Huttterites. Both trace their roots back to to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century and are easily identified by their simple living, plain dress and wonderful baked goods at local farmers' markets.

Fortune Magazine and US News both conduct annual reviews and ratings for over 24,000 public schools throughout the country. The more notable (ie; Radnor, Lower Merion, Haverford, Trediffryn/Easttown, Unionville-Chadsford, etc...) in the affluent western suburbs of Philadelphia  (known as the Main Line) rank in the high 700s to low 800s out of 24,000+....ironically the same rankings as the local public schools in Sioux Falls, SD (namely: Roosevelt, Lincoln and Harrisburg.) Whether we elect to send our daughter to public or private school, the fact remains that public school systems this strong, speak volumes about both areas politically as well as culturally. 

We've only been here for about four months so stay tuned for more interesting similarities between these two states....