• The 60 Second Leader
  • Seven Secrets of Inspired Leaders
  • The Little Book of Leadership
  • Leadership Hub for Corporates
  • Learning to Live with Huntington's Disease

No Leaders, No Top Down, No Bottom Up: Lessons from flocking

There’s a fascinating talk from Iain Couzin over at Edge, that helps us realize how inadequate are most of our thoughts about large scale change in people behaviour and whether you can achieve it through ‘leadership’. Couzins is an Assistant Professor at Princeton who studies self-organized pattern formation in a wide range of biological systems, including ants, fish schools, bird flocks, locust/cricket swarms and human crowds. His work is relevant to how companies are run. Here are some extracts:


“A fundamental question in biology is how the functioning of collective systems works—whether you are dealing with the function of a tissue and how the cells within a tissue interact, or whether you’re dealing with ecologies or even ecosystems. We really need to build a new understanding and new tools that allow us to integrate across these scales. People refer to top-down and bottom-up; in some sense we have to take both approaches to try to understand these systems.”


“We have been extending these types of flocking models to understand information transfer within groups. What these models initially did, and what was very important to show in the ’80s and ’90s is that you don’t need a leader. You do not need a commander to tell individuals what to do. Previously when people looked at, say, ant colony raiding patterns—and this was in the ’40s and ’50s—they thought they had to be pre-concerted, there had to be a word of command, there had to be a commander. We then learned that that is not the case. We also now know that there are differences among individuals, that information differs, that individuals are moving around interacting relatively locally with their environment.”


From ants to fish:

“And yet the individuals’ functioning is entirely within the context of these schools; you can see the integration of the behavior when they are attacked by predators, you can see why in the ’40s people thought there must be thought transference, must be telekinesis, because of these remarkable maneuvers. We now know that these maneuvers are created by the relatively local interactions among the individuals.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *