"How understanding flocks, schools and colonies can make us better at communicating, decision making and getting things done."
Having studied entomology in college and loving the movie Aliens made me wonder what Peter Miller saw in our animal kingdom.
He shows with studies and tests that we have much to learn from fish, birds and insects by how seamlessly and honestly they communicate with each other.
"Young ants entering the work force don't have to sit through an orientation meeting or memorize a mission statement..."
So how do they know how to build a maze of living chambers, find food and sustain the colony?
It’s called self-organization and has three basic mechanisms: decentralized control, distributed problem-solving and multiple interactions. If you're a lean guy like me you just started salivating!
The book contains several experiments and examples that explain of how we can use the problem solving techniques of insects to come to better answers.
These same techniques are now used by anti-terrorism teams, Boeing aircraft engineers and supply and demand systems for gas and oil.
Honeybees "seek a diversity of knowledge, encourage friendly competition of ideas and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices" just like people in Vermont town hall meetings.
What looks like “bee chaos” is actually a town hall meeting where different scout bees interact to come to a consensus about the new location for a hive.
These same techniques are seen in the town halls of Vermont where they still vote on matters of state. The book even gives us some insight as to why Vermont was the 4th state to legalize gay marriage. Hint: people communicated openly.
The wisdom of crowds = diversity of knowledge
A group as small as 3 people can have as much impact as a single genius. The book gives several examples of groups solving problems with greater efficiency and accuracy than individuals.
The diversity of individuals within the group will increase the group’s effectiveness by utilizing everyone’s variety of knowledge. See my post on divergent thinking.
There is also the downside of swarms and crowds:
The trampling of people at a soccer match, the tech bubble bursting and crashes in the real estate and stock market are all examples of swarm mentality. Many of these were caused by people acting on bad information or no information due to lack of communication.
These exact same issues can cause the decline/death of an ant colony or cause locus to go on a feeding frenzy across miles of grasslands.
Experiments, data analysis and real world examples:
The experiments he cites in this book are very elegant and accurate. Some of them took 3-4 years to generate and analyze.
The information about ants has been used to design supply and demand systems for companies.
"Just like a flock of starlings, in other words, the monstrous Orcs in The Lord of the Rings coordinated their movements as a maurading army by following simple rules of interaction:
- Stay close to other Orcs
- Don't bump into other Orcs
- Head in the same direction as the Orc throng
- If you run into any humans - cut them in half with your sword"
Have you ever given a standing ovation because you didn’t want to be the one sitting down?
A standing ovation is a reaction based not on ones own personal feelings but on the actions and reactions of others. It’s called contagion behavior.
This really made me wonder how many business decisions are made on contagion behavior as opposed to good solid Honeybee and Ant thinking!
When I was done reading I had used 78 post-its to tag interesting facts and notes. I couldn't put them all in here so I suggest you read Smart Swarm yourself. I now envision honey bees buzzing less and waggle dancing more.
Notes and Quotes:
"Maybe the smart way to face the unpredictable....is to look for that balance between strategic goals and random experimentation.”
Firefighters and Chieftans developed in human organizations because we rewarded those people.
Many production systems are composed of informal tribal networks of trusted "goto" people.