The Honeybee Democracy book will be part of my November 30, 2011 Leading from the Middle workshop in Riga.
The bee (“humanity’s greatest friend among the insects”) illustrates the concept of the “leaderless” organization and offers us several tips on how boss-less groups of humans can make good decisions.
The book explains how bees decide on the best location (from among dozens of choices) for a new home through: “identifying a diverse set of options, sharing freely the information about these options, and aggregating this information to choose the best option.”
Thomas D. Seeley, the biologist author, observes: “Remarkably, the scout bees do all these things without working under the guidance of a leader.” And, Seeley’s research demonstrates that the bees pick the optimal new home 4 times out of five, a success rate of 80%.
While each chapter makes for fascinating reading, the epilogue (pp. 233-236) condenses the bees’ process of leaderless decision-making.
What characterizes bee collaboration?
1. No dominating leader, one who can shut down discussion or censor any dissenting views. There are tradeoffs: no one to state the purpose of the discussion, nor someone to define the groups method of decision making no chairman to keep the group on track, nor a firm hand to foster a balanced discussion and bring the meeting to a conclusion with a decision made. It's all up to the group.
2. A strong incentive to make a good decision (survival!) While our mere mortal decisions may not be life or death, there are some decisions crying to be made. As I write this, the several month old Euro sovereign debt crisis with its queen bees at cross purposes - imagine Silvio Berlusconi et al. in bee costumes and you get the idea. Update: as of this afternoon, yet again, a "solution" is proposed: “It remains a deal long on intentions and short on detail....” Send in the bees!
3. One problem to solve. (For us humans, a reminder to keep to the task – to pursue the objective, and not be confused, distracted or off track about what needs doing.)
4. An agreed upon process (rules of procedure) for decision-making. Bees are genetically “hard wired” to do this. Humans are not. Absent a boss, team members need to enforce the agreed upon rules, and “to shape the process, not the product.”
5. An agreement among all about what the problem is (a new home) and the protocol to be used in making the decision for a new home.
Scout bees and team members: Responsibilities
Scout bees, those several dozen adventurers who explore the unknown and return to advise the swarm, suggest what each member of a human team ought to do. The scout bees:
1. Find multiple locations for new homes. (They have to find, explore, and analyze each possible new location, the new idea for a solution.
2. Share the news about what they find. (The scout has to know of what he or she “speaks” – each scout is prepared. There’s no holding back the information or not participating.)
3. Convince other scouts in open debate about why one option is better than the others. (The scouts offer-up excited announcements in dance. Their waggle dance is about the direction, distance and desirability of the new site; each dance advertises the findings - interested scouts will go to the actual site and report - the better sites get more visitors. All views are welcome and all views are respected. There is no suppression of dissenting views, nor is there pressure toward social conformity.)
4. Reach an unanimous choice of the one best site – no dog-in-the-manger bees allowed!