First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

The five organizational habits of highly effective hives

Thomas Seeley

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Thomas Seeley for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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How the hive makes its most important decision

One of the popular misconceptions about honey bees is that their lives are ruled by a queen or perhaps by even some more fanciful system.  But in the forty years that I’ve spent studying bees, I’ve learned that their colonies are remarkably complex, in many ways comparable to an animal brain, despite being individually quite simple. And every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing a new home, honey bees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. It is a democratic process that humans — especially office drones — might do well to emulate.

When a beehive becomes overpopulated, usually in the late spring or early summer, some two-thirds of the workers and the old queen, often up to 10,000 bees in total, leave home in a swarm and gather on a nearby tree branch in a beard-shaped cluster. From there, a few hundred scout bees, which are often the bees that have the most experience with the world beyond the hive, take off in all directions, searching for tree cavities. The ideal space for a new hive can be difficult to find: the opening should be small, about 10 meters off the ground, and lead to a 40-liter cavity inside a sturdy, living tree. Each scout that discovers a promising site inspects it to see if it is suitably roomy and secure, and then returns to the cluster to announce her find by performing a waggle dance.

The dance indicates both the location and the quality of the site.

As the scouts report on their respective sites, other scouts observe and follow the directions to the indicated locations. (The direction of the waggle dance shows the direction of the new location relative to the angle of the sun, and the duration of each circuit of the dance indicates distance — I told you this was complicated!) Each scout inspects the site she navigated to and if she agrees that is a desirable dwelling place, she too performs a waggle dance when she returns to the swarm.

Bees are thoroughly honest advertisers. The better she judges the site, the longer she dances, and the more effective she is in recruiting other scouts to make their own forays to the spot. This means that, despite the competing information that scouts bring back to the swarm, eventually, usually over a day or two, enough scouts will agree on the best site to cause them to induce the rest of the swarm to fly there.

Even though an individual bee is not particularly intelligent, the collective intelligence of the group produces impressive results. Almost always — about 90 percent of the time in my experiments — the swarm chooses the best of the options it has found.

What we can learn from the hive

For millions of years, the scouts on honey bee swarms have faced the task of selecting proper homes. Evolution by natural selection has structured these insect search committees so that they make the best possible decisions. What works well for bee swarms can also work well for human groups. We can learn from the bees the following five guidelines for achieving a high collective IQ.

1. Remind the group’s members of their shared interests and foster mutual respect, so they work together productively. The scout bees know instinctually that their interests are aligned toward choosing the optimal home site, so they work together as a team. There are no clashing curmudgeons in a bee swarm.

2. Explore diverse solutions to the problem, to maximize the group’s likelihood of uncovering an excellent option. The scout bees search far and wide to discover a broad assortment of possible living quarters.

3. Aggregate the group’s knowledge through a frank debate. Use the power of a fair and open competition to distinguish good options from bad ones. The scout bees rely on a turbulent debate among groups supporting different options to identify a winner. Whichever group first attracts sufficient supporters wins the debate.

4. Minimize the leader’s influence on the group’s thinking. By functioning as an impartial moderator rather than a proselytizing boss, a leader enables his group to use its combined knowledge and brainpower. The scout bees have no dominating leader and so can take a broad and deep look at their options.

5. Balance interdependence (information sharing) and independence (absence of peer pressure) among the group’s members. Only if ideas are shared publicly but evaluated privately will the group be good at exploring its options and making good choices. Scout bees share freely the news of their finds, but each one makes her own, independent decision of whether or not to support a site.

I’ve used these methods in running my own groups, and they can be remarkably effective at building consensus and producing good decisions. Let the bees show you that with the right organization, democratic groups can be remarkably intelligent, even smarter than the smartest individuals in them.

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Thomas Seeley is a Professor of Biology in Cornell University’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. He’s the author of three books, most recently Honeybee Democracy.

To check out Ndubuisi Ekekwe’s HBR article, The Leadership of Ants, please click here.

Friday, November 12, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Weinberger on “Stripes and Hierarchies”

David Weinberg

Here is an excerpt from an article written by David Weinberger for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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This post is part of an HBR Spotlight examining leadership lessons from the military.

It took me a couple of years after I left the academic world and went into the business against my will (long story, not interesting) to realize how much I hated one particular aspect of my old life: The academics I had been hanging out with seemed to spend every minute of their life with one another trying to show that they were the big dog in the room. I’m certain this was worse because I was in philosophy where there is no objective measure of truth and so few external markers of success. So, you are constantly being challenged to show that your ideas are unique and uniquely valuable. This resulted in a typical form of conversation that accepts what was just said as obvious and that then shows how your own thinking is far more profound: “Well, yes of course that’s right, but only if one fails to notice that ____.”

This perpetual jockeying for position — and I admit that I may be remembering it as more prevalent than it was — was exhausting. It resulted in a hierarchy, which for an open field of thought like philosophy is generally not helpful. Worse, it created a hierarchy about which no one agreed. It was the worst of all possible worlds, as Leibniz would not have said. (Surely you’ve read Leibniz’s Theodicy? No? Well, then I win!)

The same positioning and one-upmanship happens in virtually every business meeting I’ve been to, although not nearly as perniciously. There may be something natural and inevitable about it. But, this struggle to be perceived as sitting on the highest branch serves no good purpose. The meeting is being held to advance some shared goal, but the snippiness and posing only advance individuals’ interests in their own status.

This is why I was so impressed with a working meeting I attended at West Point a few years ago. Lt. Col. Tony Burgess, Lt. Col. Nate Allen, and others were meeting with the group that created The range of ranks went from cadet to pretty damn senior. And yet this was one of the most informal, comfortable, productive business meetings I’d been in. It was respectful up and down, but also relaxed, funny, and — most of all — with a mutual humility shorn of attempts to advance one’s social standing.

And it seemed clear to me why the West Point meeting worked so well: the social rank of each member was literally on his sleeve. They didn’t have to work at it because the metadata about their position was attached with thread and needle. That’s way more obvious than having to read someone’s rank by interpreting how they’re leaning back in their chair or smirking whenever the new guy talks. With one’s position so obvious, you don’t have to waste time trying to establish it by always saying something smart or cutting.

If it is the case that humans, at least in our culture, are going to try to define themselves within a social hierarchy, establishing those relationships clearly and explicitly can shake a lot of the posing, posturing, self-inflation, and other-deflation out of the relationships. As I saw at West Point, it can enable more equality as well, for rank becomes a position in hierarchy governed not by social climbing, but by a common goal and mutual respect.

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David Weinberger is a senior researcher at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His latest book is Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (Times Books, 2007).

Friday, November 12, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Napping Gets a Nod at the Workplace

Now that a number of companies are offering napping rooms, snoozing at work isn’t so embarassing any more. Photo credits clockwise from top right: Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images; Ziv Koren/Afp/Getty Images; Cynthia Johnson/Getty Images; Rex Usa; Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images; Paul J. Richards/Afp/Getty Images; Antonio Calanni/Ap Photo; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Corbis.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jascha Hoffmann featured by Bloomberg Businessweek magazine online (August 26, 2010).

To read the complete article, please click here.

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A growing number of companies are encouraging employees to snooze at work—and boost their productivity

From Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill to Bill Clinton and George Costanza, the nap has had many famous champions. And with good reason. Ever since sleep scientist David Dinges helped found the modern science of napping in the early ’80s at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, short periods of sleep have been shown to improve alertness, memory, motor skills, decision-making, and mood. All while cutting down on stress, carelessness, and even heart disease.

With Americans averaging fewer than seven hours of sleep per night—and around 20 percent suffering from sleepiness during the day, according to a recent Stanford University study—many companies have turned to the humble nap in an attempt to stave off billions in lost productivity each year. Following the rise of workplace perks like lactation rooms, gyms, and child-care facilities, Nike (NKE) workers now have access to nap-friendly “quiet rooms” that can also be used for meditation. Google (GOOG), a forerunner in employee perks, has a number of futuristic napping pods scattered throughout its Mountain View (Calif.) campus.

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“Tiny naps are much more refreshing than people tend to realize,” said Jim Horne, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University in England. “A short nap in the afternoon will get rid of sleepiness without interfering with nighttime sleep.” That said, it’s best not to depend on napping as a permanent replacement for lost sleep. “On occasion it will get you over the hump, but whether it gets you back to peak is an open question,” says Dr. Roger Rosa, a senior scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. “If you’ve lost an hour of your previous night’s sleep, a nap may be just the ticket. If you’ve been up all night, it may give you a hangover effect” known as “sleep inertia.”

According to Dr. Sara Mednick, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, not all naps are created equal. Mednick believes that naps weighted toward different stages of the sleep cycle confer different benefits. “If you do physical labor, you need more Stage 2 sleep,” says Mednick. “If you are doing memorization or verbal work, you need more slow-wave sleep. And if you do creative or visual work, you need more REM sleep.”
Dr. Mednick has devised an “Optimized Napping Formula” so ambitious nappers can maximize the desired phase of sleep. Napping newbies can purchase a device called Zeo ($199), which promises to track your sleep cycles for you via your brainwaves with a special headband. Those looking for a simpler contraption might prefer the Dream Helmet ($29.95), which serves as mask, pillow, and earplugs all at once.


Napping at work has become acceptable at some companies. Yet pulling off a “productivity nap” at the office isn’t easy. Here are suggestions from sleep scientist Dr. Sara Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.

1. Make time and space
: Twenty to 30 minutes is all you need to reap the rewards of midday slumber. The best time is the early afternoon when your body is tired—so consider reserving the second half of your lunch break for shut-eye. If your employer doesn’t have a nap room, a yoga mat beats a bathroom stall, though the most comfortable option may be a parked car.

2. Set the proper conditions: In the dark our brains produce more of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, so close the blinds, turn off the lights, and consider using a sleeping mask. Keep the temperature on the warmer side. If you must nap sitting up, use a travel pillow to avoid the dreaded “nap nod.” And don’t forget to turn off your cell phone.

3. Careful with the chemicals
: Avoid caffeine for a few hours before a nap. The same goes for nicotine, diet pills, and antidepressants. Although alcohol makes it easier to nod off during the day, it interferes with sleep and should also be avoided. Refined sugars and carbs may keep you up, but meat, dairy, and some nuts have tryptophan, which our bodies break down into melatonin.

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Jascha Hoffman is a journalist who has written on science and culture for The New York Times, Nature, and other publications. He lives in San Francisco and is also a songwriter.

I highly recommend Tony Schwartz’s latest book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working in which he focuses much of his attention on rest/sleep deprivation and rest/sleep renewal issues.

You can also check out my blog posts about Schwartz and his work by clicking here.

Friday, November 12, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Management Practices and Processes – 2 Lists from Gary Hamel

In Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, he reminds us that checklists are needed because: Every day there is more and more to manage and get right and learn.  And defeat under conditions of complexity occurs far more often despite great effort rather than from a lack of it.

Recently, someone asked me just what all is involved in management.  “There is much to get right,” but I remembered these lists from Gary Hamel’s book, The Future of Management.  Yes, this is a lot to work on, to get right, to master.  But here are the lists for every manager to work on:

• The practice of management entails (has entailed):
• Setting and programming objectives
• Motivating and aligning effort
• Coordinating and controlling activities
• Developing and aligning talent
• Accumulating and applying knowledge
• Amassing and allocating resources
• Building and nurturing relationships
• Balancing and meeting stakeholders demands

• Management processes include (have included):
• Strategic Planning
• Capital budgeting
• Project management
• Hiring and promotion
• Training and development
• Internal communications
• Knowledge management
• Periodic business reviews
• Employee assessment and compensations

Friday, November 12, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Steve Jobs; Paul Harvey; Mary Kay Ash – All World Class at Sales, Sales, Sales!

Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something!
Mary Kay Ash (I wrote about this here).


The key to business success?  A really good product, with a really great sales person/sales force.

That’s it.

I have known this for a long time.  There is an interesting article about Steve Jobs up at  It is sort of (ok, quite a bit) critical of Steve Jobs and his “closed approach.”  But buried in it, without the use of the word “sales,” it reveals Jobs’ great strength – as sales person par excellence.

Steve Jobs, doing what he does best

If you have been reading Bob Morris’ posts here on our blog about Carmine Gallo’s book about Steve Jobs (and my posts about Gallo’s videos about Jobs); if you have paid attention at all to Steve Jobs; then you know that though he has great, even world-changing products, there is no one – and I mean no one — who is better at sales than Steve Jobs.

The article, Steve Jobs, A New Mogul With Old Methods by Tim Wu, tells much about the Jobs approach, his products, his view that that he wants total control of his “system.”  Though the article does not use the word “sales” at all, it is Jobs as salesman that makes the needed, additional, whopping difference in Apple’s success.  Here’s a quote:

In the computer world, and particularly for those in the cult of the Mac, a Jobs keynote speech is part rock concert, part sacrament. As he speaks, he is repeatedly interrupted by cheers, an unusual thing in corporate speechmaking.

It reminded me of an article I read years ago.  It was about the amazing success of Paul Harvey on the radio.  What was his secret?  It was simple, really (simple – not easy to replicate!)  He was world-calls great at sales.  The article was: Paul Harvey:  He’s been a radio icon since Limbaugh and Stern were in grade school. More than that, he is the finest huckster ever to roam the airwaves by Mike Thomas at (September, 2001).  Here’s the key excerpt:

It may be cynical to say so, but therein lies the key to Harvey’s longevity and success. Sure, he’s an astute dissector of current events, cultural phenomena and middle-American minutiae. But more than that, he is perhaps the finest huckster ever to roam the airwaves. He is so good that sponsors are said to be stacked high and deep, waiting to wow him with their products. Because if he is wowed, and only if he decides something is worthy of his own personal use, he will sell the hell out of it. And even while it is sometimes hard to believe that the multimillionaire workaholic finds time to strap on leaf blowers and operate load handlers, one willingly suspends disbelief if only out of respect and admiration for the magical way he woos us to spend money.

Paul Harvey

So, we’re back to the simple wisdom of Mary Kay Ash: Nothing Happens Until Somebody Sells Something!

Friday, November 12, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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