Posts Tagged ‘synergy’

Corporate lessons from ants

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

I was watching a program about driver ants and they have a lot to teach most corporations that I encounter.  The millions of individuals in a colony each know their role; they know how they add value.  They focus their energy on common goals and support each other.  From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.

They find their food by ceaselessly exploring, and never writing off any avenue for progress without first trying it.  When one succeeds, they communicate their findings and then they co-operate to exploit them.  Where one cannot succeed, many can.  They are the very embodiment of synergy.

They are masters of logistics and transport back 150,000 food items from a single raid with the ants turning themselves into a living rolling road.  The largest ones take the front end, with little guys bringing up the rear, whilst the soldiers guard them and mark the route home.

When the colony gets too big to sustain, it splits, with a young queen (new leader) taking half the colony to literally explore pastures new.  Once ensconced in her new nest, she produces up to 2 million eggs to carry on the work.

They are able to take on superior, seemingly impregnable opponents like crabs by co-operating and exploiting their vulnerabilities.  They attack the crabs joints to gain access to their soft internal parts.  Slugs are covered with sticky slime in which a single ant gets stuck; however the others soon turn up with particles of soil that neutralises and absorb the slime and then the slug becomes ant food.

It all comes down to communication and co-operation.  I recently worked with a company with ambitious growth plans and guess what their issues were?  Maybe they should have hired an ant queen?

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”  John Donne

“Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.”  Kenyan Proverb”Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.”  Henry Ford

”None of us is as smart as all of us.”  Ken Blanchard


  1. Stigmergic SystemsStigmergic systems combine information technology with stigmergy and other structures found in nature – to create self-organizing Web sites and low cost knowledge management systems.

Hatred & Diversity

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I was listening to an article on the radio this morning about troubles in Eastern India where radical Hindus are are apparently attacking Christians, have burnt down churches and even got involved in gang rape.  Elsewhere Jews are persecuting Muslims, nominal Christians are anti-Semitic and militant Islam seems to hate everyone else!

It seems that there is quite a deep need to feel superior to others, to believe that there is only one ‘true path’, to distrust and fear those who are different from us.  The odd thing is that no matter how we change the badges, we always seem to recreate the ‘Us & Them’ thing.  Within a group or organisation there always seem to be factions.  Think about  the divisions within the Christian church.  I was deeply shocked to discover that even within my own family that two cousins were now no longer speaking to their nephew because his wife is from the wrong sect… How’s that for loving thy neighbour?

These days we are all supposed to be respecting diversity and enjoying the multi-culturalism.. and yet… and yet we fear those who are different rather than being enriched and stimulated by them.  If we aren’t secure in ourselves we are far more likely to be judgemental of others’ choices.  We would never suggest that everyone should eat only one sort of cuisine; why do we expect others to agree with all our other choices and views?

We need to find ways in which it is safe to disagree and explore those ideas, that is where progress comes from…

“Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.”   Mahatma Gandhi

“Our greatest strength as a human race is our ability to acknowledge our differences, our greatest weakness is our failure to embrace them.”  Judith Henderson


The Smallest Particles part 2

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I posted the other day on the CERN experiment to explore the tiniest parts of our universe and try to learn something of our nature. I was thinking about this further and don’t feel that I made the point as clearly as I could.

Imagine you had never seen an E-type jaguar, or perhaps even that you had little idea of what an automobile was, and in order to explain it to you I shipped you out every single nut and widget that went to make the car in one great big box. You tip them all out and there you are, staring at all these bits and trying to envisage how they fit together.

Now if you are clever enough and patient enough, you might end up working out how they fitted together and you would indeed have learnt some about an E-type. However you couldn’t possibly learn about all the non-physical things that surround this object. What the Jaguar brand stands for, its history, the teenage dreams it might represent.

Objects and systems are so much more than just their physical components and perhaps one of the sad thing about our times is that we spend so much time in studying the bits and never get around to understanding the systems that they are part of. One only has to look at the state of modern medicine to see this. On one hand we are bringing about miracles and literally helping blind people to see, on the other, we are ruining thousands of lives with poisonous drugs.

By all means look at the component parts and their interaction to try to increase your understanding but never make the mistake of thinking that these bits add up to the whole.

The smallest particles

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

The press is full of the stories about the CERN particle collision experiments that began yesterday; some folks were suggesting this could create a black hole and potentially bring about the end of the world!  The best reaction I heard was one enterprising young lady who thought this meant that homework was now not required.They are trying to see if they can learn more about the nature of creation by literally smashing atoms to their constituent parts.

The thing about complex systems such as companies, is that there is always a bit more to them than just the sum total of their parts.  The true art of management and leadership is to create this kind of magic whereby 1+1+1 equals more than 3.  During takeovers and acquisitions or cost cutting regimes, people try to slice out bits but sometimes the heart is removed as well.

Trying to understand a living system by just examining its ‘bits’ doesn’t necessarily work as it misses the impact of the ‘ghost in the machine’.

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art”  Leonardo da Vinci

“There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”  Napoleon Bonaparte