The wildlands of business and your managed retreat.

wild lands, suburbs


The way a business evolves from start-up to demise is trackable through a cycle that has strong parallels in nature. Stepping back and seeing the similarities is a useful exercise and shows a set of practices that can help you avoid some repeated pit falls.

Mega trends

This is one example. The planet is seeing a noticeable increase in wildfires. Not so long ago, such fires were a problem but not always devastating for humans. That’s changed. But wildfires are a necessary part of the ecosystem: they clear away detritus and let new plants see the sky with room to grow.

Caught in the fire zone

OR – how planning restrictions, self-interest and a poor understanding of environment have conspired to push nature into a corner, and how she is fighting back.

Towns go through a cycle of early growth to reach a high density of population. People need places to live, so an increase in building creates homes for lots of people. As prosperity rises, people prefer not to live on top of each other, so they begin to push out of the town boundaries and into open space. We know these areas as the suburbs.

Parts of the world have drier areas around towns than others. In the UK, our forests are pretty damp, so fire doesn’t often occur, but in other parts of the world, such as California, it’s much drier.

At the time of writing, the USA has 63 wildfires burning, affecting over 38 million acres of land That’s a lot of fires, affecting a lot of people, and science tells us that the conditions are linked to climate change led by man-made pollution.

Creating the right conditions

As housing development pushes out from town centres, rules are created to protect the environment for its residents; often these restrict property height. This limits the number of families living on a single plot and so urban sprawl continues.

Human development means nature must also be managed. Firebreaks are built into city design, and trees and other flora are cultivated: this is the point of Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI) – where nature meets housing. Historically this area was undeveloped but, as homes are needed, it has been adopted and built on.

Nature, however, doesn’t stop doing what nature does and so, seasonally trees shed leaves and old wood, which forms layers of detritus circling towns and cities. This keeps building until temperature conditions create the perfect opportunity for fires to thrive – and the store of combustible materials is ripe for burning. And it does.

Managed Retreat

People who are newly switched on to the risks of fire destroying their homes and businesses are entering into a period of managed retreat: a process of moving away from danger zones. Funding for such retreats falls to the home owner and, clearly, not everyone has the means to facilitate this. So houses are being abandoned, or simply left deserted after they’ve burned to the ground, and their owners must start again, the value of their investment in bricks and mortar lost.

The above process describes a set of uncontrollable changes that have a direct effect on homeowners: climate change and long-standing development practices building up a body of accumulated waste that eventually brings the house down.

Your fire line

After a successful period of selling a product or service, inevitably customer preferences move on, a business is left trying to sell its old offering and the conditions in which it operates all move beyond its control. This is when it gets burned.

The average lifecycle of a business today is around 15 years, so you may have survived more than one cycle already, either through good luck or great foresight. But even your previously accurate foresight may need to change to adapt to the new world order.

Design thinking

Our tool of choice is design thinking. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but can be harder to execute. As we’ve said in the past, design thinking is like climbing a 50-foot rope and ringing a bell: simple to understand, much harder to do.

So, call in some expert rope climbers

This is what room44 does. We see your problem from a different perspective – and we walk you through the design thinking process so that you can develop customer-facing strategies that will provide the things they are looking to buy today.

Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do. Get in touch here: