Ant Colony Management

  • Posted on: 6 December 2015
  • By: Shawn DeWolfe

Ants in a line Ants seem to be tireless workers. They toil to feed massive colonies and carve out massive tunnel networks. They are a model of productivity. Or are they?

Scientists wondered how ants could trek off, find resources and return them to the colony. It’s not magic or memory: it’s chemistry. Ants leave a chemical trail wherever they go. They find food and walk it back by retracing their steps, leaving a second trail. The next ant to encounter the chemical trail, picks up it’s double usage and follows, laying down additional chemicals. Pretty soon, the trail is so heavily enforced that many ants take the same route ending up with a conga line of ants. The magic isn’t the trail. There are ants that wander off in search of food who find nothing and die before they return. No reinforced trail = no conga line. The magic is that the ant colony succeeds even though individual ants die.

Is Your Management Style Like An Ant Colony?

Some places nurture everything: relationships, careers, reputations. Others just fire off in all directions, celebrate the successes and mute the losses. They contend with high waste. They accept that some of workers go off to professionally die. Not an actual death, mind you: it's a death of productivity, collaborative effort, and pride in one's work.

Haven't you seen McDonald's hand out a free meal when someone complains? It's a lot more expedient to placate someone offended by a lousy meal rather than ensure that the quality of the product.

One good example: a place that saved on the labour required to generate robust documentation for their projects. Instead of self-serve documents that anyone involved could put into use, they relied on the workers who created the details (passwords, code, databases, etc..) to share out that information when it was needed. The problem with that concept: if there is no trail to the knowledge, luck plays a role in what should be a solid process. Did the right guy get asked? Did the right guy answer? Did the wrong guy asked point the lost soul to the right guy? Did the question get asked at 7PM before a long weekend when the right guy is off for three days of BBQ duty? Absent knowledge management means that a lot of ants are going off to die. Those who successfully exhume the knowledge are robust and lucky, but is that what an organization wants? It does mean the right guy has knowledge under lock-and-key. What if the right guy quits or gets hit by a bus? Ant colony management is okay for a hive of insects, or a model where masses of resources are thrown in to see what works. It’s not a good model for a business that wants to equip its staff to succeed; or a business would waste $8 to make $10.

Do you want to run a business like an ant colony where failure is a feature of the process? Or would prefer a purposeful drive towards success and success on all levels?

Last updated date

Friday, September 29, 2017 - 01:50