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How to Avoid Micromanagement with Swarm Intelligence (Step-By-Step Guide )

How to Avoid Micromanagement with Swarm Intelligence (Step-By-Step Guide )

Have you ever wondered how a flock of birds interact so brilliantly? Or how ants and termites build fascinating colonies?

More importantly, have you ever wondered how your organization could mimic a flock of birds or an ant colony to create a thriving organization without having to micro-manage every little detail?

What is Swarm Intelligence?

First introduced by Gerardo Beni and Jing Wang in 1989, swarm intelligence is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, for which social insects are one of the best examples.

    Swarm intelligence is an attempt to design algorithms or distributed problem-solving devices intended to mimic the collective behavior of social insect colonies.[1]

    Essentially, swarm intelligence improves our collective behaviors (our outputs).

    Derek and Laura Cabrera, systems theorists and professors at Cornell University compare this to a game of chess in Flock Not Clock,

    “The game of chess has simple enough rules for a child to master, yet there are 318 billion possible ways to play the first four moves. The behaviors (or outputs) of systems – be they a flock of starlings or biodiversity writ large, chess matches or organizations – are emergent properties of simple rules at the local level. By identifying, understanding, and applying these simple rules, we can make the outputs better.”

    Let’s look at an example of how these simple rules work for an ant colony:

    Simple rules outlined by the Cabrera’s allow social insects (such as ants) to become a superorganism. These simple rules are as follows:[2]

    1. Look for food. Ants randomly forage for food.
    2. If you find food, shoot pheromones. A few find food and communicate by leaving a pheromone trail increasing probability of collective action on food piles.
    3. Never cross a pheromone trail. Self-organizing behavior around simple rules produces collective intelligence.

    How to identify simple rules that work

    The Cabrera’s have defined four simple and deeply connected rules that apply in all types of organizations: Vision (V), Mission (M), Capacity (C), Learning (L).

    1. Vision (V): Your desired future state or goal (what do you see?). For example, ask the following: What do you see today? What should you see tomorrow?
    2. Mission (M): Repeatable actions that bring out the vision (what do you do?).
    3. Capacity (C): Systems that provide readiness to execute the mission (how do we align capacity?). Here you build capacity to do the mission.
    4. Learning (L): Continuous improvement of systems of capacity based on feedback from the external environment (love of learning). For example, the Cabrera’s explain that a big part of learning is making people aware of the lens through which they perceive reality.

    Why Swarm Intelligence matters to your team

      Dr. Louis Rosenberg (founder of Unanimous AI) informs us that we (as individuals) are smart, yet as a group we are even smarter – we are able to amplify our intelligence.

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      “A brain is a system of neurons so deeply interconnected that an intelligence forms. A swarm is a system of brains so deeply interconnected that a super-intelligence forms. Simply put, a swarm is a brain of brains and it can be smarter than any individual member.” – Dr. Louis Rosenberg

      In Human Swarming and the future of Collective Intelligence, Rosenberg discusses the potential of human swarming. He writes,[3]

      If we consider the leap in intelligence between an individual ant and a full ant colony working as one, can we expect the same level of amplification as we go from single individual humans to an elevated ‘hyper-mind’ that emerges from real-time human swarming?

      So, can humans swarm?

      Yes.

      How can humans swarm?

      According to Rosenberg, technology is the key. Humans can swarm only if we develop technologies that fill in missing pieces of evolution that hasn’t yet been provided.[4]

      Rosenberg developed a platform allowing swarms of online users to make decisions and answer questions together by moving a graphical puck. The puck is generated by a central server and modeled as a real-world physical system.

      Watch the following video to see how this platform works:

      How I Swarm the classroom (a case study)

      I have recently examined some of the innovative ways educators try to improve the learning environment. One such way is through “flipping the classroom.” This is a teaching pedagogy which reverses old classroom teaching through a form of blended learning using modern technology and practical application.[5]

      While a flipped classroom is an excellent approach to education, I feel as though we need to take it a step further and allow the classroom to “flip itself” and emerge on its own. Our classroom should be a complex adaptive system (CAS) with no set leader. It should use simple rules to guide it.

      I am currently using the following simple rules for an online course I teach at Fort Hays State University (FHSU) in Hays, Kansas: [6]

      Rule #1. Students interact locally with each other in a decentralized environment.

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      I use a free decision-making software called Loomio that allows my students to move past the typically discussion board thread. My students use Loomio as a launching point for the creation of systems diagrams/maps.

      I also use Loomio to build a complex adaptive syllabus by proposing or collaborating on decision tools within Loomio.

      Rule #2. Students analyze and synthesize concepts and share mental models, increasing the collective knowledge of the group.

      Using the Cabrera’s DSRP Theory -Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives, my students are able to break apart concepts and put them back together using two powerful platforms (also developed by the Cabrera’s!).

      First, my class uses Thinkquiry to help them develop and ask questions that penetrate deeper into a concept. They use these guiding questions to start breaking apart and rebuilding a concept.

      Second, my students then use Plectica to break apart and rebuild concepts. My students build concept maps using Plectica (free – I use it daily!) by visually organizing parts that can be combined and connected to each other to form a more complete picture.

      Rule #3. Students react and adapt to changes without asking for permission by forming systems with immediate Action-Feedback-Change (AFC) Loops.

        The most optimal way to improve is to intuitively act, recognize that we are constantly receiving feedback from reality when our mental models crash into reality, and change by forming new mental models.

        Thus, I developed the continuous Action-Feedback-Change (AFC) Loop designed to help me understand how we improve and adapt (as individuals and as a group).

        How to use Swarm Intelligence to make your team strive (Step-by-step guide)

        So, how can you use this information? How can you apply it as an individual or a group?

        It’s actually quite simple.

        1. Identify your goal

        Are you trying to improve the collective intelligence of a group? Or are you trying to improve yourself?

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        Think back to my discussion on how I use swarm intelligence in my classroom.

        2. Document reality

        What does the current state of your group looks like?

        Ask key questions such as:

        • How does your team or organization collaborate?
        • What systems does your team or organization use to collaborate?
        • Do you find that you have to micromanage your team or organization? If so, why?
        • What do you see today?
        • What would you like to see tomorrow?

        Ask yourself the following questions if you seek to improve yourself:

        • Are you overwhelmed? If so, list the reasons why?
        • How do you organize your tasks?
        • What systems do you use to organize your tasks?
        • What are the most important things in your life?
        • What do you see today?
        • What would you like to see tomorrow?

        3. Use simple rules to collaborate and automate

        Identify 3-4 simple rules to collaborate and automate as a group or individual.

        For example, use free collaboration tools such as Slack as a way to improve the collective intelligence of a group (allowing it to emerge). Slack (Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) is a cloud-based collaboration tool that you can use to allow your group to improve without the need to micromanage them.

        Slack is offered as a free and paid tool (I recommend sticking with the free version for most groups). Here’s what it offers:

        • Persistent chat rooms (channels) organized by topic.
        • Private groups and direct messaging.
        • All content within Slack is searchable (including files, conversations, and people).
        • Integrates third-party services and supports community-built integrations.
        • Major integrations services include the following: Google Drive, Trello, Dropbox, GitHub, Twitter, Google Calendar, Google+ Hangouts, IFTTT, RSS, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, and more.

        Let’s now look at an example of simple rules to use within Slack.

          • Rule #1: Your group interacts locally with each other in a decentralized environment. Slack is your launching point for discussion and collaboration.
            Action – Download Slack over the web and/or smartphone application.
          • Rule #2: Your group analyze and synthesize concepts and solve problems together increasing the collective knowledge of the group. Your group can easily create, upload, and share ideas/documents within Slack. Additionally, using apps within Slack (such as Trello) your group can track a project or concept from start to finish without ever leaving Slack.
            Action – Create a workspace and channels within Slack. Then add members of your group (very easy process).
          • Rule #3: Your group reacts and adapts to changes without asking for permission (or without the need for micromanagement) by collaborating with one another (think back to my discussion on the AFC Loop from earlier).
            Action – Find “the pass” within your group (discussed below). This is the optimal location where you can examine the collaboration of the group.

          Watch the following video for more information about Slack:

          Step 4. Use simple rules to collaborate and automate

          If you seek to improve yourself, let’s look at an example using IFTTT.

          IFTTT (If This Then That) is a free web-based and app service that creates chains of simple conditional statements called applets.

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            An applet is something that is triggered by a change within a service (such as: Instagram, Gmail, or Facebook).

            IFTTT is a way for you (as an individual) to automate simple tasks in your life so you can focus on the more important things.

            IFTTT is also a way to automate or create what is called a “Recipe” to link services through a Trigger and an Action. You can automate just about anything using IFTTT.

            Let’s look at 10 examples of some of the best IFTTT Recipes:[7]

            1. Sync your Facebook and Twitter profiles.
            2. Send live updates from Twitter to a Slack Channel.
            3. Add scheduled events to Google Calendar.
            4. Automatically schedule daily or weekly recurring Trello Cards.
            5. Submit/automate expense reminder and/or spreadsheets.
            6. Track your work hours in Google Calendar.
            7. Receive e-mail digest of the week’s most popular business articles from the New York Times.
            8. Automatically e-mail yourself 10 Things to Know This Morning (just an example).
            9. Send weather updates to yourself at specific times of the day.
            10. Send notifications to yourself regarding the ideal travel times and routes.

            So, what are some simple rules you can use?

            Here we will apply Warren Buffet’s 5/25 Rule:

            • Rule #1: Identify your most important or top 25 goals in your life.
            • Rule #2: Circle the top 5 goals. These are your most important (big picture) goals for which you cannot automate. They must be your primary focus.
            • Rule #3: Use IFTTT to automate the remaining 20 goals.
            • Rule #4: Forget about anything else. Focus on your top 5 goals, automate the remaining 20 using IFTTT, then forget about anything else.

            Watch the following video for more information about IFTTT:

            Summing it up

            Finally, let’s conclude with one of my favorite learning/feedback examples discussed in Flock Not Clock – The best chef (the executive chef or CEO) doesn’t do any of the cooking:

            “Seems like a paradox, right? If she’s not cooking, what is she doing? She’s standing at the pass, expediting, prioritizing, and communicating orders as they come in; exercising quality control by ensuring that the fish isn’t overcooked, the side dish is ample, and the final plating of the dish is aesthetically pleasing. She monitors the plates as they are being bussed and returned – are they clean or barely touched? Are they returned with a complaint?

            Finally, the executive chef’s most important job is to ensure the sous, meat, sides, and pastry chefs learn. She knows that the safety of her stars rest not on her own ability to cook, but on her team’s ability to meet her exacting standards. When leaders focus on learning, they communicate that it’s an organizational priority and build and incentive a culture of learning.”

            So, how can you create a thriving organization using swarm intelligence?

            Simply follow the Cabrera’s advice and figure out what “the pass” looks like in your organization and lead from it.

            Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] Eric Bonabeau, Marco Dorigo, and Guy Therauluz: Swarm Intelligence From Natural to Artificial Systems: Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity
            [2] Derek an Laura Cabrera: Flock Not Clock
            [3] Singularity: Human Swarming and the future of Collective Intelligence
            [4] Louis Rosenberg: Human Swarming and the future of Collective Intelligence
            [5] Balaji Alagurajan: Flipping the Classroom in ELT Context: International Journal of Scientific Research and Review
            [6] Schwandt: Swarming the Classroom
            [7] Harry Guinness: 15 Best IFTTT Recipes for Productive Business Automation

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            Last Updated on May 20, 2019

            How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

            How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

            Time.

            When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

            As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

            Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

            Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

            The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

            There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

            Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

            And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

            So, how do you start?

            Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


            The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

            What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

            Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

            A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

            Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

            Assess Your Current Time Spent

            Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

            For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

            To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

            Tricks to Tackle Distractions

            Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

            Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

            Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

            1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

            One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

            Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

            2. Beware of Emails

            Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

            Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

            Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

            3. Let Technology Help

            As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

            Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

            4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

            Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

            This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

            So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

            Time is in Your Hands

            At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

            You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

            Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

            So what are you waiting for? 

            Featured photo credit: Aron Visuals via unsplash.com

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