Succession and Success

By LucasMartinFrey — Own work, CC BY 3.0,

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking in YouTube videos and using ecological metaphors — such as swamps.

During the week this week, I thought, based on the idea that a little knowledge is a fabulous thing, that I’d do a bit of reading about ecology, so I took a look at “Ecology: A Very Short Introduction”

From that, and the Wikipedia page, I discovered a couple of concepts which have resulted in a bit of a mini-revelation. The first of these concepts is “Succession.”

Succession is basically the name ecologists give to the pattern of occupation of a site that starts out as barren, because it’s been flatten by a volcano or a meteorite, or maybe because it’s been bulldozed.

The site starts out with small plants, typically grasses, these are followed by shrubs. Then come the fast-growing evergreen trees and eventually these are overtaken by deciduous trees, which fully occupy the canopy.

This final stage brings us to the second concept that I got from my brief look at the field of ecology the very double-entendre prone concept of — “Climax”.

Climax is when an environment reaches it’s peak. For a bare patch of land, that peak is a tall forest of deciduous trees and there a lots of reasons why a patch of land might not make it to that stage — logging, elephants, fire, human habitation or just the weather. In ecology there are a multiple number of terms for why an environment might not reach it’s full potential.

And here’s where the revelation came. Projects are ecological environments. And a lot of them are not, ever, going to reach their full potential. And there is literally no point working in those environments.

I’ve worked in them. These are project environments that are never going to succeed, if they don’t change. This doesn’t necessarily mean that those projects are hopeless, but any good that can be done on them needs to be done, not in the environment but on it.

What daemon possessed me that I behaved so well? - Henry David Thoreau