Founders & Fungi: the hidden laws of human-centered business

For the month of July, I was back in the USA – Santa Fe to be exact. One particular daybreak found me at 10,500 feet in sweatshirt and jeans, the brisk mountain air so welcome after Egypt’s desert heat. I smelled rich loamy earth and the color green; witnessed silent sunbeams as they came to rest on the forest floor.

Amidst the lush undergrowth, we were searching for the elusive yet distinctive red leather cap of the prized porcini mushroom. With each step, I reflected on the vast mycelium networks woven through the earth beneath my feet. The mushrooms we pick and eat are visible blooms, like flowers, of the networks that are essential to the forest ecosystem.

Mycelium has been described as earth’s natural internet, carrying warnings of nearby dangers along with information about how to survive and fight disease. Mycelium also unlocks and transfers nutrients among interconnected plants, usually to those that are weaker or younger, boosting resilience in the process.

“The fungal internet exemplifies one of the great lessons of ecology: seemingly separate organisms are often connected, and may depend on each other.”

– BBC, Plants have a hidden internet

The human network enables flow

I haven’t been actively writing about entrepreneurship, so you may be surprised to know that new founders comprise nearly all of my steady stream of coaching clients. I don’t seek them out, create ads, or apply novel sales techniques. I haven’t done SEO, and I’m not particularly active on social media. Instead of striving and chasing, I now simply receive what flows to me as I plug myself into an abundant living network.

Working in flow requires an inner shift, dropping into our own authenticity and truth; dropping from overactive, scarcity-programmed brains into bodies that can sense the resonant signals that are constantly moving through this living ecosystem of humanity. This is the shift I’ve been making myself, revealing paradoxical truths about how creative energy moves… yes, even in business. This might sound woo-woo, but it works.   

For the past few years I’ve operated under the name of Farther LLC, a brand I created during the tail end of my consulting career. The name itself holds the key to my dissatisfaction: it reflects the myth that what we seek is out there somewhere and we must go find it. It implies a journey, movement, chasing a dream. It’s a common idea in our culture, even more so in the start-up community where more, farther, faster is deemed a worthy goal while simultaneously being the root cause of burnout and a host of psychic, physical and social ills.

This summer I’m embarking on a rebrand from Farther to Groundbreaking to reflect the inner pivot from horizontal to vertical within myself and in my clients. For creative founders to be groundbreaking in the world, we must first break ground within ourselves, deepening in self-understanding and tapping into the life force that is the source of our power.

The growth trajectory of a company begins by actualizing inwards, within the founder and leadership team; this deepening and root-building is essential if we hope to create lives, businesses and societies that are authentic, whole, resonant and regenerative. I’ll be writing more about these four qualities over the coming months.  

Start with WHO

The key to successfully starting and growing a business is not product/market fit, but founder/customer fit. I now attract clients because I know myself: what lights me up, what limitations are hardwired, what authenticity and wholeness feel like in my body, and what value wants to be born through me.

“The key to successfully starting and growing a business is not product/market fit, but founder/customer fit.”

Through this self-knowledge and acceptance, I also know the humans I resonate with: those who are part of my mycelium network in which the connections are unseen yet deeply felt. And they also know me. We recognize and attract each other.

Ubuntu is the concept of humanity – “I am because we are” – in many African countries. The specific word and meaning can differ, but the fundamentals remain. In the Xhosa language, the term has more of a philosophical meaning:  “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.[2]

Lest we over-rotate into the “we” part of the me/we equation, there’s also a celebration of individuality in Ubuntu; an “affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference.”[1] This aligns with my own research into core human needs, specifically how Recognition – I feel seen and valued for my unique gifts – is the gateway to both Autonomy and Belonging: me and we.

Through my own deepening journey of individuation and self-authorship, I discover that I’m now far more capable of Belonging and authentic connection, not only (yet especially) with my tribe of similarly wired humans. Because I see myself clearly, I can now see others clearly. Because I let go of self-judgement, I can let go of judgement of others. Because I no longer fear uniqueness but instead embrace it, I celebrate the uniqueness of others.

We are all individuals yet not separate; this me/we equation is Ubuntu, and it’s the individual mushrooms deeply entwined below the earth. It’s a natural law of the universe, which means that starting with who (not why or what) creates the conditions to flourish.

Big visions need deep roots

The outer world is always a mirror of our inner world. A founder will always create in his or her self-image. If there’s a perception of separation – that what we seek is out there somewhere and requires striving and chasing to attain it – then what results is a manifestation of fragmentation, separateness and stuckness. This is the pattern I have witnessed through 3 decades of strategy consulting.

But when a founder (or anyone, for that matter) begins with a fundamental belief in wholeness and abundance, anchored and rooted in that expansive full-body YES that signals this is what I’m born to do, not straying from this ground of power no matter how fabulous the shiny squirrels dashing about… this is the seed of something truly great. And more than that: it’s the seed of executive presence. The seed of clarity and consistency to navigate the inevitable storms. The seed of confidence and healthy boundary-setting.

The bigger the vision, the greater the need for strong roots that grip deeply into the ground of Being… tapping into the source of flow, connecting with humanity, and magnetizing the right ecosystem of team, customers and partners who seek to express that singular vision in their own individual ways.

Every great founder including Jobs, Musk, Bezos and many others have excelled at magnetizing ecosystems, grounded by visions in which everything is connected. And perhaps by diving deeper within their own humanity, they could simultaneously create kinder, more human cultures within their organizations.

Our society has bought into the myth that business and humanity – logic and emotion, success and soul – are incompatible. They’re not. The interconnected, messy web of humanity is what powers impactful businesses. This is the invitation for every creative status-quo-busting entrepreneur and leader: to reconcile these apparent opposites by starting at ground zero – within yourself.

………

If you’re an intuitive, fast-thinking entrepreneur (or aspire to be one), will you join me on this exploration at the intersection of business, humanity and faith? Faith not in any religion, but in the inevitable impact that’s created when we align internally to how the natural world works.  

Follow along as I write my book; I’ll be publishing snips as I write. You can sign up for my newsletter here.

If you’re ready to embark on your own founder journey, but status-quo ways of working give you hives, let’s talk. I have two coaching spots available in August. 


[1] Ubuntu philosophy, Wikipedia

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