Thomas L. Friedman: An interview with Mother Nature

The New York Times foreign affairs columnist shares what the environment can teach us about thriving in an age of disruption in a conversation with James Manyika.
Video
Thomas L. Friedman: An interview with Mother Nature

Other videos in this series include:

Interview transcript

Thomas L. Friedman: Thinking about climate change, “good” or “bad” are not in my vocabulary because [it’s] here. And there’s nothing I can do about that. I want to try to think about how to manage it, to manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable, for all of these things.

As I thought about that, James, I said who do I go to? What do you want when you’re in the middle of a climate change? You want two things. Resilience—you’re going to take a blow, because stuff happens. And you want propulsion—you want to be able to move ahead in the world. You don’t want to be hiding under the chair, [until someone says], “James, come out, the climate change is over.”

James Manyika: Right. You have to be on the move.

Thomas L. Friedman: How do I get resilience and propulsion? Well, I sat back and thought about that. And I said, “Who can I interview on resilience and propulsion, besides McKinsey Global Institute?” And then I realized I knew this woman, she was 3.8 billion years old. Her name was Mother Nature. And she’d dealt with more climate changes than anybody.

I called her up, and I made an appointment, and I went out to see her. I said, “Mother Nature, how do you produce resilience and propulsion when the climate changes?” She said, “Well, Tom, everything I do I actually do unconsciously. But these are my strategies.”

First of all, she said, “I’m incredibly adaptive. In my world, it’s not the strongest that survive, not the smartest that survive. It’s the most adaptive that survive. And I teach that lesson through a process I call natural selection. You may have heard of it.”

Secondly, she said, “I’m incredibly entrepreneurial. Wherever I see a blank spot in nature, I fill it with a plant or animal perfectly adapted to that niche.”

Third, she said, “I’m incredibly pluralistic. Oh, I’m the most pluralistic person you’ve ever met. I tried 20 different species of everything. I see who wins. I love diversity.” And you know, she told me something interesting, James. She told me she noticed her most diverse ecosystems are also her most resilient and propulsive ecosystems. I love pluralism.

Fourth, she said, “I’m incredibly sustainable. Nothing’s wasted in my world. Everything is food. Eat food, poop seed, eat food, poop seed. So nothing’s wasted.”

Fifth, she said, “I noticed that my ecosystems that are the most resilient and propulsive build complex adaptive systems where all the parts network together. The soils, the plants, the animals, the trees, they network together. That really maximizes their resilience and propulsion.”

Next, she said, “I’m incredibly hybrid and heterodox. I’ll try anything. No dogmatism in my world. I’ll try any trees, any soils. I’ll try any bees with any flowers. I’m always experimenting.” Next, she said, “I’m a lifelong learner. And I apply my learning—through genomics—very quickly. But I’m always experimenting, learning, applying.”

And lastly, James, she did say, “I do believe in the laws of bankruptcy, Tom. I kill all my failures. I return them to the great manufacturer in the sky, and I take their energy to nourish my successes.”

My argument is that the company, the community, the county, the city, the town that most closely mirrors Mother Nature’s strategies for building resilience and propulsion when the climate changes is the one that will thrive in this age of acceleration.


Watch the full interview, “Thomas L. Friedman and James Manyika: The world’s gone from flat, to fast, to deep.

About the author(s)

Thomas L. Friedman is the three-time Pulitzer Prize–winning foreign affairs columnist at the New York Times and the author of Thank You for Being Late. James Manyika is the chairman and a director of the McKinsey Global Institute.

Related Articles