Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Swarm

I went for a run Monday through the tomato, sunflower and sod fields south of our house. Ozomatli and The Allman Brothers in my ears, pollen bombs in my lungs, and nothing but open roads for my beat up Nikes. Good run, and then I encountered two beehives. Big, Yao Ming-esque ones. I froze; there were thousands of honeybees, enveloping their colonies. Half naked, I veered left and scurried home, unscathed.

Beehives have always fascinated me. Their organization, sense of purpose, productivity, and frenetic (but disciplined) characteristics are cool. Bees get shit done. (An estimated one-third of the human food supply depends on insect pollination, most of this accomplished by bees.)

Metaphorically, beehives are like startup companies. Here’s wiki’s take with my analogical two cents in parens:

New honeybee colonies (companies) are formed when queen bees (founding executives) leave the colony (former company) with a large group of worker bees (the team), a process called swarming (entrepreneurship?). The first or prime swarm (kick-ass team members) generally goes with the old queen. As soon as the swarm is established as a new colony (established company), the bees raise a new queen (CEO nurtured from within), or sometimes a replacement virgin queen (CEO-in-training) is already present in the swarm. Afterswarms (spinouts; intrapreneurial endeavors; divestitures) are usually smaller and are accompanied by one or more virgin queens (executives in residence; interim CEOs). Sometimes a beehive will swarm in succession until it is almost totally depleted of workers (crash and burn).
A terrific new paper authored by MIT researchers Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper, The New Principles of a Swarm Business, entertains the innovative virtues of collaborative “swarms”. Gloor and Cooper assert the swarming of bees is an archetype of selfless, collaborative innovation:
With no central direction, bees self-organize to build nests, feed and nurture offspring, gather food and even decide on their next queen. Similarly, groups of humans swarming together for a common purpose can constitute a powerful collective mindset that unleashes tremendous creativity, spurring exciting and valuable innovations.
Gloor and Cooper cite the selfless and successful swarm development of the World Wide Web. Good stuff, and we’ll dig deeper into their principles (gain power by giving it away; share with the swarm; and, concentrate on the swarm, not on making money) in the coming days.

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