Goodbye, Symbiosis

I’m not a scientist, but took some biology courses and thus, I’m qualified to be  bothered by the misuse of “symbiosis” in business communication.

I learned about symbiosis in 9th grade biology, and learned more about it in a college course “Evolution, Ecology and Behavior.”

Since then, marketing documents and web sites seem determined for me to  unlearn  the proper definition.

Symbiosis is a categorical term that encompasses concepts such as:

  • Predation— The pursuit, capture, and killing  for food.
  • Competition—The utilization of the same resources by organisms of the same or of different species living together in a community, when the resources are not sufficient to fill the needs of all the organisms
  • Parasitism—A relationship between two species of plants or animals in which one benefits at the expense of the other, sometimes without killing the host organism.
  • Amensalism—An association between organisms of two different species in which one is inhibited or destroyed and the other is unaffected.

Do any of the above relationships sound like the kind in which you’d like to enter with  a vendor, a client or a strategic partner?

“Mutualism,” is a relationship in which a benefit is realized by both parties. I think that when most  companies use the term symbiosis, this is the kind of relationship they have in mind for their external relationships.

At least I hope that is the case. We’ve all had experiences where vendors seemed to treat us as if we were a parasitic host and they were  content to suck purchase orders from our system until we financially shriveled.

It might be worth a look at your own presence in print and on the Web for the instances “symbiosis” and ask if  “mutualism” is a more appropriate term.

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