Tag Archives: swarm theory

Working together

To explain not posting for the last ten days, I noticed that I was reluctant to admit that we just returned from a California vacation. That reaction seems strange considering in our small town it is an annual communal practice to head south or to the mountains when Montana State University closes its doors for spring break. Go to Moab, Costa Rica and Whistler the third week of March and you will be sure to cross paths with a Bozemanite. Vacation plans have always been standard small talk here where nine months of the year yield snow.

Yet, standing in the grocery check out line earlier this month an acquaintance shared how she was driving two hours away to ski this year to “be good.”  I receive a weekly email that broadcasts queries from reporters and I’d say a good dozen of these requests have been on the theme of “Are you still going on vacation, or should you, during an economic downturn?” After watching the attached TED video, I’m wondering if my vacation sharing reticence comes from trying to fly with the flock!

 

 

I have been long fascinated with how groups move in unison without apparent choreography. What makes a team rally behind a particular leader? How do organizations suddenly coalesce around a creative solution? What creates a new industry trend? Mathematician Steven Strogatz explains that the synchronized movements of flocks of birds or schools of fish are easily modeled using three basic principles:

  • A member watches those next to him
  • Group members tend to line up
  • Group members are attracted to one another

When a predator attacks, a fourth principle is added:

  • In danger, get out of the way!

Birds scatter and then flock once more as they respond to external attacks; are we attempting to do the same as we adjust to global or regional surprises?  I must be applying the first principle as it pertains to discretionary spending, yet recognize, as Strogatz explains, that too much synchronized movement can be detrimental to the whole.  Following the presented theory, it might be interesting to consider how we can  “fly right” in these times. I welcome your thoughts!