Where do I start?  How about anywhere?

This morning began as it often does – a cup of coffee and a check-in to the blog reader. Don’t ask me how I got to today’s ‘end point’ because I didn’t track my movements.  From one place, I whizzed off to another site and then another and before I knew it I’d forgotten what got me where I was.  In no particular order here’s what has emerged for me.

Following on from thinking about complexity (see my last post), I dropped in on Johnnie Moore’s blog and watched a PBS video on Emergence. How do bird flocks, fish schools and crowds of people behave so that the behaviour of the whole is the sum of the parts.  How does that work?  These are complex adaptive systems where there is no leader.  Whatever emerges is related to how connected the parts of the system are to each other. Out of apparent disorder, order emerges.

In 1986, Craig Reynolds plugged some steering rules for flocking creatures into a computer simulation he called Boids.   They were:

stay aligned – steer towards the average heading of your flockmates

maintain distance – steer to avoid crowding your local flockmates

cohesion – steer to move towards the average position of your flockmates

Somewhere down the rabbit hole, I found an additional rule.

avoid obstacles – steer away from predators

I ended at the amazing New York Public Radio’s Radiolab site listening to a 2005 broadcast about Emergence.   The broadcast, which you can either stream or download, is an hour long.  If you haven’t that much time, it’s split into three parts.  The broadcast is rich with questions, great production quality and links to the guests.  Here are my takeaways.

There is no leader or conductor for fireflies that somehow know how to light up in complete and silent synchronicity with each other.

There are no instructions for ants.  Their behaviour is a series of accidents driven by the need to find food and survive.  Each individual appears to know what it’s doing, but it doesn’t.  One ant accidentally falls across a food source having left a chemical trail.  Another finds the same source (accidentally) and strengthens the scent trail and so on.

The most interesting and vibrant cities, towns and neighbourhoods form in the same way, from the bottom up through a series of accidental or unplanned decisions.  Everybody and nobody creates them.  How do similar businesses like florists end up co-located?

With birds and bees and fireflies, there is no leader.  There is no plan.  There is mystery, beauty and order in the group.  When planning rules aren’t handed down from the top, wonderful places can emerge.

What if the only rules we humans had were the steering rules? I’ve had a little play with Craig Reynold’s rules.  “Boid” rules for people if you like.

stay aligned - have a shared purpose for being and staying together.

maintain distance - give each other the space to think – physical space – silent space – respectful non-crowding and listening space.

cohesion - be average – we don’t need to do something wildly different to succeed – trust that the group wisdom will emerge with what they need

avoid obstacles – look after each other and notice what’s getting in your way

I’m off now.  On another tangent to explore collective intelligence.  I may be some time.

Lynn Walsh – workshop facilitator – Sydney

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