I make a trip today, no anthropology and no, no neurology, … nearly every article I read contains the word neurology or oxytocine. Today I make a trip to the animal kingdom. Yes I know, I am not the only one, certainly not if you consider the emerging growth of systems thinkers. And I’m not a specialist.
I had contact with Fons Feekes, founder of Myna, software that facilitates “swarming”. Not a new concept, no, and yet I advise you to read his white paper about swarm theory, which you can find on the website. I just made some notes of my thoughts….
Birds and swarming
Birds swarm. Each bird applies three decision rules to make autonomous decisions. These 3 rules explain mutual behavior, but also the reaction of the swarm, the whole, to the environment. Within a swarm of bird one speaks of dispersed intelligence: each individual bird interacts with the others based on three instinctive rules. Translated to organizations, Aaron Dignan translated this in to three principles : autonomy, consent and transparency. Are the three rules, autonomy, consent and transparency, also so instinctive in humans? I wonder and wander….
Fons mentioned in his white paper different types of swarms. The V-flock seems simple but is based on a complex system of mutual coordination and the fastest pigeon leads the spherical flock. From the moment the “leader” pigeon is no longer the fastest, it is pushed back. Leader off…. Indeed, it seems that swarms are flexible forms of cooperation. It sounds like bird whistle to my ears.
Swarming is a wonderful concept, but requires that the conditions are met. If not, we revert to problem behavior, no cooperation. Businesses are stalling.
Pitfalls of swarms
The dimensions “time is money” and adaptation are an important engine here. There is a clear purpose. To make swarming your organizational structure and culture you need a clear goal. To set clear action goals it is best to have a clear mission, purpose. As long as the mission is not clear, transparent and supported, no swarming is allowed. Is it going wrong there? Or do we still carry a piece of “pride” culture in our bodies?
Cooperation and respecting and celebrating talent is a beautiful aspect of swarming. Flow is created and the wellbeing of people will increase… if we follow this reasoning then we also assume that everyone has a talent, passion and on top can or will express this passion in his job? How many people do their work as a means and not as an end? “But you have to recruit people who are passionate, who want to be part of this culture“; is teh anwser I often get.
Horses and herds
Too often, herd behavior is connected with flight behavior and is seen as negative. The leader of a herd takes initiative and the rest of the group follows. The horse whichtakes leadership has both an overview and a focus, he or she radiates security and self-confidence. In short the herd has conficence on his insights and overview.Whether the others follow depends on the conviction with which the leader acts. The leader does not force the others to follow.
The herd leader is not necessarily the most dominant animal. Most of the time he isn’t, because who likes to be in the company of a dominant animal? Dominant animals are mostly concerned with themselves, self-interest is paramount and that is not for the benefit of the herd. Leadership in such a herd does not arise overnight. The animal with life experience often has the best lawns … However, a young animal can also take an initiative. If the rest follows, it may sometimes let another older animal take the lead. In large herds, the role of leader can also be divided between different animals.
Innovative but not agile?
We do see that leadership here is based on experience, focus, overview and radiating self-confidence and security. The goal is to survive (drink, eat and not be eaten). You can connect this with a leadership or organizational structure that is less agile.
A herd is less adaptable as a swarm. The last one can change direction in 3 dimensions. But as long as the importance of a third dimension, flying, doesn’t matter, this can be an organizational structure and leadership structure that works. But what with the environment, do we all need to be adaptive in 3 dimensions? Or are there even more dimensions?
Although a Pegasi herd seems like a nice imagination… maybe they find a nice combination between swarms and herd mentality? This can also be a form of innovation … Or maybe there will be a herd of Hyppokampoi adapted to a whole other environment?
Pride of lions
Today, we see that often power and by no means always leadership that holds sway in many companies. Talent, overview, experience focus and cooperation are still often missed. There is no swarming nor a herd. You could compare it to a pride of lions. The lion leader is merciless and unreliable. His rule is based on divide and rule, on exhaustion strategies and sneak attacks. He prefers to attack weak animal species, because he is also rather lazy than tired. He enjoys tearing up his prey and prefers to let others do the dirty work. The lion leader is thrown out of place when another male defeats the old leader in battle. Blood, aggression and mistrust …
Lion leadership in a company is determined by connections, diplomas, influence, expertise (which expertise?)…. And other display of power. It gives the lion the taste of a piece of raw, warm meat. He doesn’t want to share power with others!
- How do you turn a pride of lions into a herd of pegasi or a flock of swarming birds?
- Are you starting with organizational structure or organizational culture or both?
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