The tree – the ideal metaphor for life cycles

Everything follows the path from the cradle to the grave. This applies to life cycles of products, styles, corporations, technologies, cultures and nature. The life expectation of a TV is almost eight years, a video game nearly six years, and a smartphone just over four years. Cars have an average life expectancy of 18 years and an airplane of roundabout 30 years. Technology cycles change the entrepreneurial business models every 40 to 60 years. Roman culture survived for 1000 years, while the Spanish asserted themselves as a global superpower for 500 years and the United States persevered since its entry into the First World War just 100 years. The Neanderthals became extinct about 30,000 years ago, after an estimated 170,000 years of populating the world. There is nothing that can escape being and passing away.

The following phases are the basis for a holistic life cycle.

  • Development
    Everything starts small scale, with a seed that is planted in the fertile soil. It matures something new and the first versions are evolving that do not have much in common with the final specimen. It requires openness and creativity to achieve viable results. The first mobile phones, the so-called „brick phones“, were only mobile to the extent that they did not need a telephone cable. Otherwise, they were much more bulky than today’s smartphones. The step of the development takes advantage of the existing leeway to reach the final shape. The results are diverse and at the same time very similar. In the end, the most practical solutions are implemented and build the basis for future variants. The tree also grows using the available light and water. After a certain time, it has conquered its place that can be seen in its form. The nature is generous in this phase and spreads a huge number of seeds, since only a small number have a chance to survive. Since this is also true for man-made things, it takes a large number of attempts so that individuals can make it.
  • Disruption
    The so-called disruption is a recurring decision point. This raises the question as to whether the chosen path has proven its worth in daily business. You probably see this blog post on your tablet computer. When these PCs were introduced to the market for the first time in the eighties, they were not ready, since the broadband networks were not yet available. Only in 2010 the IPAD prepared the way for the current devices. As soon as you reach this decision point, criteria for the assessment are needed, which help in the choice whether or not to continue. A tree must also deal with disturbances. In addition to its annual active phases (see below), it goes through a natural life cycle that depends on the long cycles of climate change. If the conditions of the climate are changing that much that the livelihoods of the tree come to an end, then the degradation begins. While the nature can react robustly to the fluctuations, missing nutrients in products and services, like demand and resources, lead to a rapid initiation of the phase-out.
  • Activity
    Activity is the ongoing operation. It works until the disruption is decided. Let’s think of today’s programs that run on smartphones, the apps. They are frequently updated as long as there is a corresponding demand. Afterwards, they simply disappear from the market. The continuous improvement extends its existence. The „operation“ of a tree follows the cycle of the seasons. In springtime, the blossoms sprout, which allow the tree to enlarge and replicate. In summer the leaves use the sunlight for growing. In autumn, the leaves are falling to save energy and to be less vulnerable to cold and ice. In winter, the tree rests by squeezing as much water as possible out of its trunk so that the cold can not affect it. And then the productive cycle begins again from the start. Every change of the season means stress that is compensated by natural measures. In business life, everything is a matter of simple objects that have little flexibility. These products and services are used as long as they provide benefit without difficulties. Instead of adapting to new circumstances, simply new solutions are created. Therefore these technical solutions have a much shorter life than a tree.
  • Phase-out
    After the decision is taken to decompose, the selected choice is implemented unswervingly. In some cases, this sun downing can take years. Today major computer programs that are written in Cobol, a programming language from the 1960s, are still running. On the other hand, Microsoft decided to not continue to develop the operating system Windows XP after 13 years. Nevertheless it will still be found until the last XP computer is scrapped. The phase-out announces the end and leads to a steady deterioration. The inertia of the organization and the people involved require a strict disclosure of the reasons for the dissolution as well as hopeful prospects for the affected employees. The removal of a tree takes much longer. At first, fewer leaves sprout, then moss evolves, and eventually it rots from the inside to the outside until it tumbles down and dissolves – even though the oldest tree has already survived ten thousand years.
  • Latency
    Although solutions are no longer used, they are still subconsciously available. The computer mouse is such an example. It was developed in the sixties of the last century, but it was not used extensively until the eighties because of Apple. The graphical interface that is controlled with a mouse had not been developed by Apple, but Xerox. However, because Xerox was specialized in copying, the idea disappeared in the drawer – in the latency. Through an open dealing with latent ideas, you can get faster to new things with former functioning solutions. This means that the wheel has rarely to be reinvented. Even if trees disappear as soon as the climate changes, the nature make it possible to grow them out of nowhere, as soon as the required climate reigns and sufficient water is available. The path to the latent solutions goes via open, nonjudgmental brainstorming.

Bottom line: The longevity of a tree impresses. And it regardless follows always the same process: development, disruption, activity, phase-out and latency. Since everything starts at different moments and takes different lengths of time, all life cycles generate the chaos that we have to deal with in everyday life and business. Just as many trees create forests and let them disappear, technologies enable new fields of business and disappear after a certain time. Becoming and fading with the entire phases make the tree an ideal metaphor for life cycles.