The Organization as a Complex Adaptive System

The study of complex adaptive systems from the natural world, systems such as swarms of bees, flocks of birds or herds of animals, has illuminated how the group as a whole and its members are influenced by, and influence, each other. Pursuing questions such as ‘How do birds flock?’ and ‘How do bees swarm?’ has led scientists to investigate how individual elements act within the context of the whole. For example, how do individual birds act within the bigger context of the flock or bees within a swarm? Flocking occurs when individual birds fly together in such a way that they form a discrete entity, what we call a flock. The remarkable thing is that they do this without any lead bird directing each bird's individual action. They do it without bumping into each other, while maintaining similar speeds; and they do it in close proximity. Indeed, they perform rather like the Red Arrows’ flying formation, except that there are a lot more of them and they don't get 10 years’ specialized training. How do they do it?

Close observation suggests that they achieve these feats of coordination by adhering to some very simple rules in their local environment: each bird makes moment-to-moment decisions by following these few behavioural guidelines in its own immediate context. Through computer simulations these have been identified as being: try to maintain a minimum distance from other objects in the environment, including other birds in the flock; ...

Get Positive Psychology at Work: now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.