Even if you are not reading the book, you are invited to share your thoughts on the book’s main topic: Why experts keep failing us – and how to know when not to trust them.
…Just remember to use “#dhfwrong” so we can find your tweets!
Also, you may notice in our blog side-bar (to the right of this post) we’ve added “Our Favorite Blogs.” These are blogs on RM-related topics (complexity, social entrepreneurship, ect.) which are particularly interesting. To highlight just a few:
The buzz in LA over the past week was whether Google has been testing self-driven cars on public streets in California. In fact, they have – although they also claim a human was always in the car in case something went wrong. With all the technology at our disposal these days, you may wonder, why we aren’t already riding on robot-driven roads? Turns out the answer is complex – literally.
Whether it’s driverless cars in traffic or data packets on a busy computer network, much of the progress of today’s technologies are indebted to locust, ants, bees and all of nature’s creatures that swarm. In his book, The Perfect Swarm, Dr. Len Fisher explains how many fields of study, from psychology to engineering, have been learning from nature things like:
How individuals avoid a collision within a swarm
How the swarm navigates around obstacles/threats
How the swarm gets to their destination with efficiency
Dr. Fisher starts with a look at nature’s swarms, and gradually moves to human society and complexity science. Throughout the book, he provides amusing anecdotes from scientific experiments, examples of computer modeling, and lessons humans can learn about leadership, change management, problem solving, decision making and networking. Dr. Fisher also provides up-to-date examples of these principles at work, from web businesses like Digg.com to political flash mobs self-organizing via Twitter in Iran. Seventy-two pages of informative notes also provide detailed information and references that did not fit in the body of the text.
In 1986 Craig Reynolds used a simple algorithm to produce complex “boid” animations like this.
Two thoughts might occur to the reader in the course of reading this book:
1.) “This stuff is common sense” – It’s true that many of the ideas related to swarm intelligence and decision making are based on simple principles. (In fact, it seems, the more complex the problem, the simpler the solution.) However, Dr. Fisher points out that finding that simple solution is… complicated. Take this Frank Plumpton Ramsey quote:
The rate of saving multiplied by the marginal utility of money should always be equal to the amount by which the total net rate of enjoyment of utility falls short of the maximum possible rate of enjoyment.
This is a great example how getting to a simple solution (how much money we should save) is complicated.
2.) “Is this just about crowd control?” – One might easily think, when reading about “bee logic” that all you can get out of these insights are general rules for managing crowds (at sports events, for instance). But the second half of the book takes a detailed look at some hidden applications for swarm intelligence.
The following are just a few of the many practical insights offered in The Perfect Swarm
Leadership – Bee swarms teach us that leaders need not be visible or prominent to be effective. Dr. Fisher states, “We can lead a group simply by having a goal, so long as the others in the group do not have different goals.”
Teamwork – Swarm intelligence differs from “groupthink” in that individuals think and act independently. Dr. Fisher points out how groupthink leads to problems such as the two space shuttle disasters.
Human Resource – Complexity theory says that, while experts are good for specialized problems, a “swarm” of generalists are better for solving complex problems. Phil Tetlock breaks down “experts” into two types – foxes and hedgehogs – and shows how foxes offer “built-in diversity.”
Consensus – Once solutions are reached by individual members of “the swarm” there still exists the problem of reaching an objective consensus. Decisions with only two alternatives (i.e. Yes/No, guilty/innocent) are much easier to deal with.
Heuristics – Sometimes good decisions can be made by a “swarm” – even in the absence of information. Gerd Gigerenzer offers strategies for such decisions based on statistics.
Change Management – In today’s complex world, there is a growing need to be able to adapt quickly to changes. The book takes a look at businesses such as Ebay that have acted like “hawks,” taking advantages of fleeting opportunities.
Networking – Even with billions of websites, it’s still a small world. Dr. Fisher shows the importance of “two-way” links, the Power Law (80/20 rule) and 6 degrees of separation.
Because the field of complexity science connects all conceivable areas of study, this book is a “must read” for leaders, followers, innovators and technicians. Whatever role one plays in “the swarm” it is important to understand lessons we can learn from nature.
Listen to Science Friday’s interview of Dr. Len Fisher: