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What you can learn from bees

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This guest post is by Michael O’Malley, author of “The Wisdom of Bees: What the Hive Can Teach Business About Leadership, Efficiency, and Growth.”

If you watch honeybees carefully, sooner or later you have to ask how such a tiny creature can be so incredibly productive. How can many thousands of bees behaving without reference to a blueprint work together harmoniously and profitably?

In “The Wisdom of Bees,” I suggest that their secret chiefly lies in their clever social organization and uncanny ability to negotiate four dilemmas.

  • They protect the future without sacrificing their short-term needs. All action in the hive is in the context and service of future growth and survival. Bees are not indiscriminant revenue (nectar) chasers or short-term maximizes. Their goal is to conserve their energy for the long haul while maximizing their returns over a broad geographic area and extended time horizon.
  • They permit individuality without upending community. Much of what bees do is outside the influence of any central authority — the bees are empowered to act independently based on local cues and requirements. Nevertheless, everything the bee does is for the good and welfare of the whole. Bees labor with the group’s goals as their own.
  • They promote stability without quashing flexibility and spontaneity. The bees have highly structured internal systems such as developmental progressions and methods of communications, but they are able to redeploy their workforce quickly based on environmental conditions and find new rich patches of flowers by straying off a charted course. Bees are adaptive precisely because they are able to deviate from prescribed pathways.
  • They care for their members without endangering the colony. Older bees nurture every bee born into the world along: no bee is expendable. Every bee is expected to live a full productive life. However, if a diseased bee potentially puts the hive at risk, the bees will remove her (most bees are female) from the colony to prevent contamination and organizational death from within.