Why business is like ... an ant colony

The UK is on the verge of an ant invasion - Lasius neglectus is marching across Europe and heading our way. These ants may look like their British cousins but operate in super-colonies a hundred times larger. In the recent BBC series Swarm, docu-maker John Downer paid tribute to the ants' collective power: 'Nature has two ways of creating intelligent behaviour. One is to develop large, sophisticated brains in individual organisms, such as humans. The other is millions of smaller brains, which communicate with each other inside a colony.' Ants, he says, are the perfect example of 'swarm intelligence'.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Lately, the merit of having 'large, sophisticated brains' in the senior management of banks has been called into question, so is it time for ant-style collective control? Says Steve Tappin, co-author of The Secrets of CEOs: 'The outstanding companies of the next decade will be led by a tightly bonded fellowship of remarkable leaders operating as one.' That may be true, but we'd be wary of any company that incorporated slaves, drones and fertile queens into its business plan.

A system of devolved power may seem attractive after the extensive failures of the omnipotent CEO system. But, as the latest Jack Daniels ad reminds us: 'No monument was ever raised to a committee.'

Jennifer Harris is director of JRBH Strategy & Management, www.jrbh.co.uk.

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