Work Lessons From Trees

Since our school years we’ve been trained to think of the Darwinian theory of “survival of the fittest”. We grow up in an individualistic society where every individual is supposed to take care of himself/herself. This lifestyle is further encouraged once we step into the workplace. We knowingly or unknowingly step on each other to climb the corporate ladder. However the recent trends suggest that perhaps we were wrong all this while and there is an urgent need for change. The cut throat business environments are now shifting their focus to a more humane workspace.

When we think of the Darwinian Theory, we think of nature. Nature is often the inspiration for so many theories and inventions. Maybe it’s time we look at nature again to get a hint of what our future workplaces could look like.

Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, writes in his book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate” explains how a forest is like a family of trees, young and old, communicating, helping and living with one another in harmony. Here are a few lessons we can take away from trees.

our survival is not about the fittest but about the most well connected

Working together

Wohlleben points at two massive naked, winter stricken, beech trees standing next to each other. He says they’re old friends who do not encroach in each other’s space but “they are very considerate in sharing the sunlight, and their root systems are closely connected. In cases like this, when one dies, the other usually dies soon afterward, because they are dependent on each other.”

Protect each other

The main topic of conversation among trees appears to be about alarms and distress. In the dusty savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, when a giraffe begins to chew on the wide-crowned umbrella thorn acacia leaves, the tree sensing an injury lets out a distress signal in the form of a gas. The surrounding acacias detect the gas and start pumping tannins into their leaves. Tannin can sicken or even kill large mammals. The giraffe aware of this does not move on to the next tree.

Help the fallen

Wohlleben remembers an incident when once he noticed a felled tree about 400 to 500 years old. On closer inspection, when he scraped away the surface with his pen knife, he found the stump still green and alive. Trees refuse to give up on their dead and wounded. They continue to feed them in their fallen state for years together.


Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, talks about the concept of a “mother trees”. Mother trees are not necessarily female but they’re the oldest and biggest trees in a forest. They play a protective and nurturing role for the younger trees around. Since they have the deepest roots, they have access to more water and nutrients to feed those that are struggling. Furthermore, they also protect lesser trees during windstorms, ice storms, lightning strikes, wildfires, floods, draughts, diseases and various other attacks.

 Can we be more like trees? Can we use our stature, our experience to nurture others and not trample on them? Can we protect others from dangers, rather than being helpless observers to the suffering around? Can we feel deep down in our heart that in our roots we’re all connected, that our survival is not about the fittest but about the most well connected.