Turn Your Organization into a Mycorrhizal Network

Late last year, I read an interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine discussing mycorrhizal networks—underground networks of fungi that connect the trees in a forest. Carbon, water, and other important nutrients pass from tree to tree through these underground networks. These resources tend to flow from the oldest and largest trees to the youngest and smallest—ultimately perpetuating healthy forests.

All very interesting you might say, but what does this have to do with anything other than trees? Plenty. As I read the article, I kept thinking about how mycorrhizal networks are a perfect metaphor for a thriving marketing organization. The notion of an underground network in which information, advice, and mentoring flow from senior, experienced marketing pros to junior, less experienced marketers is something that will result in a strong, thriving organization that self-perpetuates.

Two keys are essential to make this happen. First, like the more mature trees, senior marketing pros need to be generous, willing to share their time, knowledge, and expertise. The old idea that knowledge is power and needs to be hoarded, doesn’t work anymore. Knowledge is power only if it’s shared.

Second, junior marketers need to be willing to ask for help and advice. The old idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness also doesn’t work anymore. Self-confident young professionals admit what they don’t know and are willing to ask for the information and advice they need to learn, grow, and ultimately create high-quality campaigns.

Rethink Your Mentoring Program

Most organizations have some sort of formal mentoring program in place. I’m suggesting something that goes beyond a formal program. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against formal mentoring programs, but the problem is that they are, well, formal. Mentors and proteges meet on a set schedule, and often complete forms prepared by the HR Department. The entire process can become tedious.

I’m suggesting a less formal, more fluid arrangement. I’m envisioning a just-in-time mentoring program where people who need information and advice are able and willing to approach the people who can help them in that moment, and the people with that information and advice are genuinely willing to share it.

Suzanne Simard, PhD, RPF, a Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia, first identified the power of mycorrhizal networks in a forest. She says, “I was taught that you have a tree and it’s out there to find its own way. That’s not how a forest works though.” Too often young trees, junior marketers, are left to find their own way. That’s not how a high-performing organization works either. Build your mycorrhizal network and watch your marketing organization grow and flourish.

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