Let’s Learn to Swarm

March 20, 2012 2 Comments


“From honeybee swarms we’ve learned that groups can reliably make good decisions in a timely matter as long as they seek diversity of knowledge. By studying termite mounds we’ve seen how even small contributions to a shared project can create something useful. Finally, flocks of starlings have shown us how, without direction from a single leader, members of a group can coordinate their behavior with amazing precision simply by paying attention to their nearest neighbor.”

–       Peter Miller, The Smart Swarm

We don’t know how to fund swarms.  We know how to fund organizations.  But a vibrant movement calls for swarm moments.  Highly adaptive self-organizing allows for the most effective response in a world that has become too complex for our planning paradigms.

Everything is changing.  If you are holding on too tightly, this is a good time to loosen than grip.    Is there anything we can do to heighten our movement’s capacity to swarm?

Our organizations and our funding structures too often serve to trap our talent – not to facilitate it.  Is there anything we can do to make it more possible for our activists and organizers to effectively swarm at the most unexpected moments?

Certainly we can work towards evolving our models of reality.  We can move away from our industrial mindset.  And we can begin to see ourselves as part of a complex and interconnected system.  We can shift our perspective.  But that’s easier said than done.  We are deeply conditioned.

How can we structure our work differently?  What can we do today, under our current circumstances, to build a culture and a structure that:

 –       Seeks diversity of knowledge – really, actually, seeks knowledge that does not currently exist within or around the organization.  What do you have to stop doing so that your people can connect to diverse sources of knowledge?

 –       Allow for small contributions – how can we make it easier for more people to do something – anything – that matters.  I’m not just talking about a vote, a phone call or a letter of support.  I’m talking about small expressions of direct action.

 –       Pay attention to the nearest neighbor – how do we breakdown current boundaries so that we can heighten self-awareness in the places and communities where we work?

 We are more connected than we’ve ever been.  We can create the conditions that allow us to swarm.  We can experiment.  We can learn.


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