5 Biomimicry Principles for Collective Intelligence

I’ve been reading my esteemed colleague Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker’s Teeming: How Superorganisms Work to Build Infinite Wealth in a Finite World for the past few weeks. The book is so riveting that I’m allocating small snippets of my time to it so I can savor it. I don’t want the experience to end, and I will probably start reading it again when I’m done.

The book focuses on superorganisms like ants and bees, gleaning lessons for how to foster practices that can make workplaces thrive. The first part of the process is cultivating what Tamsin calls Collective Intelligence. Here are the first five principles, and they match well with what I’ve been blogging about for the past couple of years, so it’s very exciting to see the synergy:

  1. Facilitating self-organized networks: small teams make decisions and change their behavior in real time based on what is needed. There are no overarching strategies or numerous meetings. Some companies, like Zappo’s have implemented this kind of system, called a holacracy, which Harvard Review analyzed last year, revealing important insights.
  2. Aggregating scattered tidbits into something meaningful: Tamsin uses examples like Instagram and Facebook to illustrate this principle. These social media networks lead to multitudes of people contributing their small bits of information to create a huge network of value, and they do it for free. This has implications for how we share purpose at scale using technology.
  3. Cultivating diversity and independence: According to Tamsin, we should be mindful of our social tendency for herd mentality, and foster individuality, creativity, and diversity to avoid getting stuck in a conformist status quo in our workplaces. This means nurturing each person to work in their own way, and bringing many diverse perspectives to the table.
  4. Communicating openly and constantly in a two-way fashion: This is something I’ve learned from my studies in biomimicry – it is absolutely essential. When communication is only one-way or incomplete or stalled, the team and the whole organization can suffer in terms of delayed action, lack of trust, and lack of collaboration.
  5. Triggering decisions using simple rules and feedback loops: Following simple rules, like in a murmuration, can lead to patterns of behavior that are adaptive and effective. We would be wise to fine tune our organizations similarly, providing a set of simple rules to follow and ensuring tight feedback loops to ensure positive systemic change happens quickly. One example of a simple rule could be: communicate change in plans within 30 minutes to my team.

As I continue to read this book with adoration, I can only say that we have so much to learn from nature’s superorganisms about how to build better organizations and teams. Coupled with my thinking on biomimetic wellness and nature-based guidance for how to eat well, I think I’m onto a whole world of learning from nature for how we can feel well, and do good. Thanks Tamsin for her delightful book – a true service!

Share with me your thoughts on how we can learn from nature to nurture more adaptive organizations and healthier people.

Harnessing collective intelligence includes fostering creativity, diversity, and open communication. Photo credit: rawpixel.com on Unsplash.

Harnessing collective intelligence includes fostering creativity, diversity, and open communication. Photo credit: rawpixel.com on Unsplash.


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