Organizational Leadership – Establishing Rules prior to reading this post.
The third step in Organizational Leadership is empowering
your experts. You have a two tier system and to support it you established a
means for creating rules and governing those rules.
It is time to unleash the swarm.
If the rules are written with enough leeway, your obtained experts
will cease being individual contributors and swarm toward goals. For instance,
take highway traffic. There doesn’t appear to be that many rules and yet
everyone occasionally gets parked on an interstate. It is because there is one
rule that is variable – speed. And there is a component that can’t counter act
that variable – a boundary. New technological advances are enabling cars to virtually
lock onto the car in front of them and maintain speed based on their speed; just
like train cars, but in a virtual sense. As the car in front of you changes
lanes, you simply lock onto another car. The benefit to safety is immense. This
is what Army Ants in Panama do. They look for a chemical marker going in the
same direction they are. They then use their antennas to control their speed
moving forward. No ant really brakes, they simply divert.
But now suppose incoming traffic and outgoing traffic meet. What
then? If the rule is simple, it will say outgoing traffic turns at wide angles.
This then means that incoming traffic turns at narrow angles. Being nonspecific
about the angle allows for variation according to context. But it does state
that the outgoing traffic must turn wider than the incoming traffic. The
implication of this rule is that lanes are formed.
<img style="width: 289px; height: 236px;" src="/images/85389-74649/Traffic_Lanes_1.jpg” border=”0″ height=”236″ hspace=”2″ vspace=”2″ width=”289″>
The rules on their own seem to make no sense, but combined
with corresponding rules, a system is born.
But you can’t write the rules to force people to swarm. People act on
their own experience. The rules only guide their experience in case of
interaction. What is interaction? One off bumping into each other isn’t
anything more than happenstance. There must be a tipping point. A point where
the experts bumping into each other changes the rules to another set.
What causes this tipping point? Leadership. Sadly, I don’t
mean leadership in an altruistic sense. Sometimes leaders are only acting in
self preservation, but sometimes leaders act to continue the “family.” So going
back to the point about individuals only acting on their own experience, this
is when leadership comes into play. They have some sort of influence beyond
the others. When others encounter a situation they are unfamiliar with they
will seek the individual who continues to charge and follow him. The leader isn’t
aware of the coming swarm he is creating. He is still working on the basis of
his own experience. But everyone else is
following. They have kicked into the rules of interaction. The leader always
reaches a point where their experience runs out as well and when that happens,
his interaction rules kick in as well and the entire swarm continues en masse.
Just think about other examples of where this happens: ants,
cockroaches, locusts, cancer cells, and the human brain itself. Each of these
systems has individuals who act a certain way alone and a certain way together.
Back to the experts – think of them as ants racing into the
forest for food. Provide them with two types of rules – individual rules and
interaction rules. Individual rules are mainly based on their own experiences.
These are experts so they have a lot of good experiences to shape their goals.
But being an expert means they realize there is still much to learn. So now
interaction rules come into play. Interaction rules are still very open to
experience. But you don’t want anyone to slow down. Speed must be held
constant. So to create the swarm and keep it moving, leaders must be identified
on a resource utilization basis. It is all contextual. Unfortunately, in the
corporate world of today, leaders are deemed leaders forever, but that isn’t
what is needed. Leaders need to come and go. Lead and follow.
If you follow this simple rule outline, you will release the
power of your experts. They won’t be siloed and they won’t be inefficient.
Information for this piece was pulled from two articles
From Ants to People, and Instinct to Swarm in the NY Times on 11/13/07
Robotic Roaches Do the Trick in Time.com on 11/15/07
Please read Organizational Leadership – Opportunity Culture to further this theme.