Rewilding Theory Is Making Me a Better Leader

Apply these lessons from the rewilding theory of conservation to revolutionize your approach to leadership.

Written by Ben Lamm
Published on May. 12, 2020
Rewilding Theory Is Making Me a Better Leader
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I don’t know how many days I have spent inside my house. For a while, I counted them, but I gave up somewhere around day 20. I began to acknowledge that things were going to blur together, and that I was going to become intimately familiar with my home office. While trapped inside, I began studying new theories and ideas for how to move our world forward. In particular, I’ve been drawn to the theory of rewilding.

Rewilding is exactly what it sounds like: a focused effort to “rewild” parts of the world.  The process entails reintroducing native species, bringing back apex predators, understanding complex ecosystems and allowing plants and trees to take back areas previously cleared for farming or other human needs. The theory relies on the premise that we have over-cultivated areas, and it is time to return them to their natural state. To do so, we need to ensure that the species in the space are protected and return species to the native form of their environment. Rewilding argues that bringing something back to its natural state will help to grow more trees, create a more stable environment, protect our species and begin to address and perhaps even negate some of the issues of climate change. Of course, rewilding will likely not save our planet by itself, but it is an important conservation strategy. It can create more biodiversity in localized ecosystems that are important for the health of the planet.

Eventually, I started to think a lot about rewilding and humans. What I have begun to suspect from the weeks stuck in my house is that the natural state of humans is not to live enclosed by four walls and a roof. Or, at least, that’s not my natural state. I’m actively craving a rewilding of my own. I’ve been drawn continuously to what the principles of rewilding can teach me about how to live my life, both personally and professionally, and especially about how it can help me approach running my business. Based on my study, I have developed three core conclusions.


Think About the Ecosystem

In order to rewild an ecosystem, you must look at what needs to be replaced, like perhaps a recently extinct bird. The theory also asks what is missing, like a species of wolf that has not lived in this environment for the past 200 years. So often in business we prioritize either replacing a broken system or building a new solution, but we can do both. When we’re able to accomplish this, we often see dynamic business opportunities come to fruition. I built Hypergiant based on thinking about not just what the world needed (more robust AI integration into software solutions) but what was missing in the world (critical infrastructure solutions). I felt that fixing what was broken, replacing what was missing, and thinking about what was needed were all critical aspects of making the future I craved. The things I wanted to see didn’t exist, and, worse, no one was even building them. With that in mind, I set out to create the infrastructure we needed to build those solutions and to respond to the problems that I saw in space, defense, and critical infrastructure. I wanted to solve for what was missing, what needed replacing, and what we could build toward all at the same time.


Break Out of Boxes That Hold You Back

This concept focuses on escaping the boxes and frameworks that deaden us. Rewilding theory is about getting back to nature and escaping from the confines of our houses and our societies. I believe this is necessary both in terms of physically getting back to nature, but also in a broader “getting outside of your own head” sense. The boxes that society places us in radically limit our thinking. I’m talking about the kinds of metaphorical boxes that pin us in. How much of our potential is limited by frameworks like these:

  • “You’re a scientist, and therefore you can only ever research your very specific area of science!”
  • “You’re a writer, so all you ever get to do is write!”
  • “You’re a programmer, so we only need you to focus on coding!”

This type of pigeonholing isnt limited to jobs, either. Other boxes define us through characteristics of personality, hobbies, and societal norms:

  • “You are creative, so you should do creative things!”
  • “You are not a swimmer, so you have to run!”
  • You must work every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.!”

These ideas all limit our outlooks rather than expand our possibilities.

We don’t need those boxes. Learn to step away from them. Let your thoughts run wild. Imagine crazy ideas you’ve never allowed yourself the space to entertain. Giving yourself that kind of scope allows big shifts in thinking occur. When I let myself think outside the box, I developed the award-winning Eos Bioreactor, the HyperVSR, and Project Orion. Outside the box thinking is the kind of thinking that changes the world.


Changing One Thing Isnt Enough

Rewilding is about systems thinking. It’s about bringing wolves back into Yellowstone, but also improving waterways for the elk who live there. It means thinking about wild pig integration, but also how the pigs’ antibodies might infect other animals. It requires us to be both far-sighted and broad in our thinking.

Systems thinking is sorely missing in our world. I built Hypergiant to look at three industries that I think are an interconnected system, but are sometimes disconnected in practice: space, defense, and critical infrastructure. To my mind, it was just too evident that these systems needed to be integrated together. When I looked around, though, I didn’t really see other companies doing it. Rather than thinking across systems, most companies I see are built to thrive within a single niche. These companies have their head down to solve one problem, and they often do that well. Sometimes we need to challenge multiple industries, ideas and experiences at once. By doing that, we can create real, transformative change.

I’m tired of small ideas. The days of building a business for the niche or working with a few pieces of the puzzle instead of the whole thing are done. I want to think holistically and act upon ideas that will truly change the world. To do that, we must open our minds and educate ourselves about how interconnected we are to the things around us — to each other, to the Earth, to space and beyond. I realized I needed to leave behind small thinking, preconceived notions and culturally imposed parameters to eliminate being constrained. That’s what I love about rewilding. The rawness of the theory reminds you of the power your imagination has in its natural state and that you can create the impossible.

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