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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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            Dr. Jamie Schwandt

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            Last Updated on March 15, 2019

            How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

            How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

            When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power, which really means influence.

            Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

            In this article, we will look into the essentials of effective leadership and how to be a leader who is inspiring and influential.

            What Makes a Leader Fail?

            A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus as fatal occurrences.

            If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

            And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the company’s size, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

            What Is Effective Leadership?

            Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company.

            Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

            Eric Garton said in an April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review article:[1]

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            “… inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

            How to Be an Inspiring and Influential Leader

            To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

            1. Courage

            The late poet Maya Angelou once said,

            “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

            Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms.

            For instance, I heard Lisa TerKeurst, bestselling author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine, she saw a future where it didn’t exist.

            In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance, and what started out as a monthly newsletter, has grown into a multi-dimensional organization boasting half a million followers. Had Lisa not found the courage to change the direction of her organization, they undoubtedly would not have been able to experience such exponential growth.

            It also takes courage to give and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or who are engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, one must risk temporary angst and speak candidly with the colleague in question.

            Similarly, it takes courage to hear constructive criticism and try to change. In business, as in life, courage is necessary for being an inspiring and influential leader.

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            2. A Commitment to Face Your Internal Demons.

            If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills.

            The truth about leading others is that you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone.

            To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious, and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

            3. A Willingness to Accept Feedback

            Inspiring and influential leaders are not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them, and they are willing to accept it.

            Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

            4. Likability

            Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important.

            When team members like their boss and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential.

            Relatedly, when colleagues feel management dislikes them, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do.

            So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

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            5. Vulnerability

            Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust.

            When leaders can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

            6. Authenticity

            Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors.

            Influential leaders are authentic. They set to live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership is that people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

            7. A True Understanding of Inspiration

            Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically.

            Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light.

            Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph while convincing the people around them that success and victory are attainable.

            Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. They convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few but that most people have it in them.

            As explained in the article True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss:

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            “A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

            8. An Ability to See the Humanity in Others

            Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value.

            This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

            9. A Passion for Continual Learning

            Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth.

            These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

            Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

            The Bottom Line

            No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself.

            Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

            More Resources About Effective Leadership

            Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] Harvard Business Review: How to Be an Inspiring Leader

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