Monday, August 6, 2007

Swarm Theory

A friend of mine keyed me in on a recent article in National Geographic. The article is a fascinating examination of how insects and animals coordinate their behaviors to achieve often complex goals. What was most interesting was that in each of the behaviors examined, there lacked a centralized leadership. Not only that, but there was really no overarching purpose, at least on the individual level. Instead, each insect or animal was reading the inputs of those closest to them, and then instinctively responding in preconditioned manners developed over thousands of years. The end result is a fully functioning, complex ant colony or bee hive, or a swarm of birds or fish communicating their movements and direction so effectively that they appear to move in unison. This is so fascinating as to be scarcely believable, we are only beginning to be able to reproduce these natural excercises of groupthink in the human realm, as evidenced by wikipedia and the ilk.

The exploration of these ideas in the technology and business world has only begun. I can definitely see how the industry that I am a part of (Semiconductor manufacturing) could greatly learn and benefit from incorporating the wisdom of the ants and bees into how we make decisions. The hardest challenge is to trust the ensuing chaos (or so it seems), when you release the workers to be independent, self directed entities. My guess is that most innovation and progress in the days and years ahead will come from this collaborative, "swarming" approach instead of the individual genius approach of years past. Change will be less the wim of a couple individuals, and more a collective sense of what is needed.