The Business Case for Holistic Management

Author: Alexander Lykins | Published: February 17, 2017 

Allan Savory — Zimbabwean ecologist, farmer, soldier, exile, environmentalist, international consultant and president and co-founder of the Savory Institute — has a world-saving message: The answer is in the soil. In the 1960s, Savory originated the concept of holistic management, which has been popularized by several articles and a TED Talk that has been viewed nearly 4 million times.

Holistic Management is a framework, most commonly applied to grassland management, that when properly practiced has the potential to regenerate damaged land. It focuses on mimicking the evolutionary grazing patterns of cattle to regenerate soils and restore grasslands. This technique has proved effective in hundreds of areas across the globe, one of the most popular being via Operation HOPE, winner of the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

In December, Bard MBA student Alexander Lykins sat down with Savory to discuss holistic management, how it can be applied to business and how young entrepreneurs can become involved.

Alexander Lykins: For some of our listeners, holistic management may be a new concept. Could you please give a brief overview?

Allan Savory: It’s an easy way, really, for anyone to manage their business or any management situation more successfully. Management, in any situation, always involves a web of social, environmental and economic complexity. Even managing feeding your family or living in a city involves complexity.

All management actions also need a reason and a context. If you think about that, you’ll realize that the reason is that you want to meet a need or a desire. In the case of policies, the context always has to do with the problem. There’s no other reason why governments develop a policy — it doesn’t matter if the policy is on drugs, terrorism or anything else. Whatever it is, the context is the problem.

When we do that, we take this great web of complexity that we cannot avoid and reduce it to a simple context for our actions. That’s reductionist management. All of us do it — we always have, in all cultures. Unfortunately, reductionist management commonly leads to achieving our actions but also later experiencing unintended consequences. And that’s where we are today.