Written by Lance Brett Hall
Lance is currently a student at the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship.
Why are fungi so hard to kill in my yard (and between my toes)?
Why do entrepreneurs and businesspeople obsess about “networking” and their “network”?
The answer to all three of these questions is really the same thing. Scientists call it “anastomosis”. In layman’s terms, it’s systematic decentralization and redundancy.
The Internet: delivering decentralized information
The Internet — believe it or not — is a relic of the Cold War. The US used to communicate using long-range radio waves, relayed across the country in a straight line. The Department of Defense realized that in case of a nuclear attack, knocking out one of the nodes in the communication line would destroy the ability of the people on both ends to talk.
Imagine two kids talking with a phone made out of two tin cans and string.
Now drop an H-bomb on the string.
To overcome this, a system of decentralized communication nodes was formed. This system formed a network or a “web”, if you will. If a few of the nodes in this network are destroyed, the web can reroute communication any number of ways.
Imagine a spider walking along its web. If you come along with a pair of scissors, and snip a few strands and knots at random, the spider can still make it from one end of the web to the other a dozen ways.
Here’s a little more technical description of the Internet’s history:
A fungus: delivering decentralized nutrients
A root in any normal plant is like the telephone line. There’s only one possible way for the plant to deliver a nutrient from where it is to where it needs to be.
When you think about a fungus, we usually think “mushroom”. The most interesting part of a mushroom, though, is the part you usually don’t see. Mushrooms don’t have a root. They have a system of thin, hair-like filaments called hyphae.
These hyphae are different from roots because of a process called anastomosis. The word comes from the Greek ἀναστόμωσις, ἀνα here meaning “throughout”, and στόμα meaning “mouth”. Metaphorically, this means anastomosis makes something have openings everywhere. Anastomosis is the special process of this filament system doubling back, and reconnecting with itself.
It’s not a linear root, it’s a network that can move nutrients anywhere the fungus needs them.
This is why a fungus is so hard to kill. It’s redundant. The organism can move nutrients quickly anywhere it needs to, even if part of it is damaged. If a spider’s web is damaged, the spider will just walk around the dangling threads, and if a fungus’s hyphae are damaged, the fungus can move nutrients around the broken filaments.
Because of this redundancy, the oldest, largest, living thing in the world is probably a fungus. Almost 1,700 football fields large.
Human networks: delivering decentralized resources
There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a “direct line” to a particular resource, and there’s nothing wrong with “putting down roots”. The problem is, what happens when the direct line gets cut off? The problem is, what happens when the (single) root gets damaged?
The most effective way to get what we need in business and in life it to build redundancy.
“The velocity of fluid flowing in a network correlates to the ability of people to communicate with each other. When a system possesses strong diversity, trust, normative rules, and extra-rational motivations, then the arteries open wide to allow the fast flow of ideas, talent and capital.”
Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt, from The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Vallet
There is value to having a “network” like the Internet is a network, or like a fungus is a network. If one part of the network won’t or can’t work, ideally, we simply get that resource from someone else in our network (or from our network’s network), and move the resource around the broken part to where it needs to be.
Likewise, we as businesspeople can more efficiently move our gifts, goods, and services through a network, because there are many ways to move them outward, instead of just one route.
As Manuel Lima points out, we may just have begun to understand how important networks are:
When we become disconnected, the story revives us.
I was always curious growing up. Curious about almost everything. I went to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy to feed my curiosity about the natural world. Moving to Germany for a year between IMSA and Cornell University fed my desire to know what life was like somewhere besides the Illinois Prairie.
During all this, I developed a different kind of curiosity: a passion for people’s stories. I trained as a theater director and an acting coach under the Pulitzer Prize nominee David Feldshuh. After graduating, I began to seek ways to use my background and my interests to grow a job that’s uniquely mine. My training at the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship has continued to feed my clarity that everything I do is about a story: the story of the natural world, the story of our culture, the story of what we can make, the story of our lives with other people.
I’m proud to teach people how to communicate using stories and story structure.