Simple Rules to Live By

What a flock of starlings can teach us.


Separation. Alignment. Cohesion. These are the names of the three simple rules that scientists and computer modelers have deduced to describe what enables birds to flock.  It’s amazing that a set of guideposts, at once so clear and so broad, could drive the behavior of tens of thousands of autonomous individuals so that they act as a coherent whole.

This is what complex adaptive systems are all about.

We are just beginning to understand that our organizations are also complex adaptive systems. Unfortunately, this means a great deal of change as most organizations have been operating under a much older, and now less effective, set of assumptions deriving from early 20th century innovations.

Think Ford’s assembly line and Taylor’s scientific management. Stupendous ideas in their time. Much less relevant in today’s knowledge economy.

Eric McNulty’s blog in strategy+business makes an argument for the using three different simple rules in our organizations today: Purpose. Values. Performance. I like his thinking. These guideposts are broad enough to apply to a multitude of situations, and can be made clear enough to be uniquely useful in each one.

If you find the usual command and control techniques are not moving your people in the needed direction, try defining a purpose for your organization, clarifying a short list of values, and tracking a few essential success indicators.

Let me know how you get on.