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Last Updated on April 18, 2018

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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            Published on January 16, 2019

            How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

            How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

            We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

            You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

            You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

            That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

            Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

            1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

            Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

            We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

            To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

            At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

            The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

            2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

            Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

            The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

            In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

            It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

            It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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            So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

            • Are you a great strategist?
            • Are you an effective planner?
            • Is Project Management your strength?
            • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
            • Are you the ideas person?
            • Is Implementation your strength?

            Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

            3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

            One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

            Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

            Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

            Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

            4. Take Time for Planning

            “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

            One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

            You can take the time to think about:

            • What’s the purpose of the project?
            • How Important is it?
            • When does it need to be delivered by?
            • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
            • What are the KPIs?
            • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
            • Who is working on this project?
            • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
            • What tolerances can I add in?
            • What are the review stages?
            • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

            Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

            5. Focus on Priorities

            Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

            Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

            One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

            1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
            2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
            3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
            4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

            James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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              The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

              If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

              If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

              6. Take Time Out

              To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

              If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

              Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

              In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

              Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

              7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

              Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

              I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

              Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

              If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

              8. Stop Multitasking

              Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

              So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

              When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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              If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

              9. Work in Blocks of Time

              To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

              I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

              Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

              Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

              Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

              Then take another 10-minute break.

              Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

              By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

              10. Get Rid of Distractions

              Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

              “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

              Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

              If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

              11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

              You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

              Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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              Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

              12. Take a Time Audit

              Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

              Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

              You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

              Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

              Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

              At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

              If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

              13. Protect Your Confidence

              It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

              When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

              Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

              When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

              Final Words

              A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

              The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

              If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

              Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

              Reference

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