Bedside Notes: A Physician’s View of the Body Corporate

Bedside Notes: A Physician’s View of the Body Corporate 1024 427 The Body Corporate

I sat gazing at the screen in the wood-paneled boardroom. It felt like I’d been here before. The PowerPoint slides were alarming. We’re running out of money, production is down, morale is poor and we need to close down another subsidiary. Suddenly, I remembered where I’d seen this before. I had been looking at another set of metrics. Blood pressure was crashing, oxygen saturation was dropping fast, and worst of all, the sparkle in the patient’s eyes was beginning to fade. In these dark hours, the similarity between the human body and the body corporate are striking.

In order to understand the human body we divide it into discrete systems. Although real life is not quite so clean, this approach helps us to keep everything organized in our minds. Sometimes one organ participates in several physiological processes. In other cases, multiple organs work together to do a single task. Sounds like organizational design, right? As with any living organism, the two most important functions are energy management and reproduction. I’ll start with these:

  1. The Reproductive System: Given the pivotal importance of fertility, this group gets first mention. Research & Development gets prime focus as the center of innovation, bringing novel products into the fertility pipeline. Manufacturing takes over to build the new offspring. Sometimes, where endogenous reproduction fails, the organization looks outside for new assets and the Business and Corporate Development Offices come into play. Finally, in good times, human capital needs rejuvenation, replacement or expansion and the HR department steps in to hire promote and recruit talent.
  2. The Digestive and Respiratory Systems: I’ve lumped these together, because although the organs for each are quite separate in the body, they both perform the same essential function bringing energy in and expelling waste. First mention goes to the sales division or service providers that generate income. Marketers define and communicate value. The offices of the CFO and the controller, and the accounting department manage financial energy resources. The Licensing office steps in to secure revenue from other assets. At the other end of this line, the Waste Management Department handles physical by-products, and the Human Resource Department discharge redundant or deficient human capital. Don’t forget the kidneys – a complex system that filters biological fluids, retaining valuable products and releasing waste to the environment. Line management and HR work together in a similarly complex process to evaluate performance, determining employee value, and managing appropriately.
  3. The Neuro-Endocrine System: I’m sure it will be humbling for the CEO, analogous to the brain to come in third on the priority list. You might argue that neither #s 1 or 2 would take place without the cranial nerve center. But from a biological perspective, reproduction is the reason for living, and energy management is the first survival imperative. So the luxury of central organization is relegated to #3, and is sometimes abandoned in small organisms. With higher reasoning taking place in the office of the CEO, the CIO and the Corporate Strategy Group, the role of distributing sensory and motor messages goes to the Corporate Communications group, Line Management and the IT department. More advanced organizations allow for some nervous autonomy, with thinking delegated to peripheral organs too. In addition to this complex neural web, hormones deliver messages to distant sites in the body. Subtle messages driving optimism and rumors seem to work like hormones – their origin generally a long way from the target organs where they impose their influence. The Public Relations office gives the body corporate voice, controlling not only vocal cords, but body language too – choosing whether the organization smiles or growls in response to environmental stimuli.
  4. The Muscular-Skeletal Systems: Having product, energy and purpose, we now need somewhere to house our corporate machinery. The skeletal infrastructure is built and maintained by the architects, engineers and builders in the Operations and Maintenance Groups. HR participates again with putting working muscle onto the organizational bones.
  5. The Circulatory System: Logistics and Distribution control the circulation of product. Finance steps in again to manage the circulation of currency. The lymphatic system in the body manages fluid leaked from the enclosed vascular system – a role managed by the Maintenance and Cleaning Departments in the body corporate.
  6. The Integumentary System: The skin is the tough permeable layer that surrounds and protects the body. This defensive task falls in the hands of Corporate Security.
  7. The Immune System: Finally, my personal favorite! Having been a corporate maverick determined to retain my own identity and creativity, I encountered the immune system often. It is designed to reduce variability, to defend homeostasis, to prevent the unusual and novel. The role is formally led by Corporate Council and Compliance and ensures legal and process compliance (I hasten to add that I didn’t clash with these important colleagues). There are far more powerful immune forces at work, often hard to pinpoint. They sometimes forget that their role, like the human immune system, should be focused on life-threatening deviation. The human body clears pre-cancerous cells each day without our even realizing it. Long-term staffers conduct corporate surveillance and quickly ring alarm bells (“you can’t do that here”, or “we always do it this way”). Peers, managers and again the Human Resource department carry out destruction and removal. I believe that the most profound differences between the body corporate and the human body are to be found in their immune systems. The pace of organizational evolution vastly outstrips the pace of biological evolution. To have resilient, growing organizations, we need to tolerate greater diversity and experimentation than is wise in a living organism. We need to manage this delicate balance better.


So, that’s the basic design comparison. In future blogs we will explore crucial imperatives like health, innovation and change in the body, and the body corporate.


Have fun,



(Roddy Carter is an executive consultant who uses nature to provide analogues for human organizational structure and function. Through the BioSimilar Programs he helps organizations select and learn from a species or environment that closely resembles their own circumstances. This is a fun way to build and implement strategy and to enhance performance. Please reach out through the connect tab at if you’d like to explore a BioSimilar Program in your organization.)