Murmurations

I’ve always been fascinated by self-organised structures, design in nature and increasingly how dynamic and distributed network structures operate for collective good. 

I was recently asked to give a Pecha Kucha Night talk, which seemed a pretty good reason to consider and explore these interests some more. Below is a brief summary/visuals from the talk, in the hope that people might get in touch who share similar research interests; or may know of the best murmuration sighting spots that I should visit this winter!

The entrepreneurial world has long used a number of terms taken from nature to depict the start-up and growth cycles/ecosystems of the business world; and I’ve been questioning how helpful some of these depictions are in encouraging more people to making a living from what they love doing. That’s why I’m naming and shaming them – some are simply bad clip art decisions which have stuck, and others are images/terms which tend to just switch people off.

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For starters: you could develop a whole presentation full of images of seedlings or globes growing in an individual hand (many come with bad nails too!). It’s a pretty strange concept when you stop to think about it. Anyone who has started and grown a business will know that it takes much more than one hand/human to do so. The you’ve ‘got the whole world in your hands’ thing has surely had its day?

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Then we’ve got the Creative Industries, the area I work within. Why are we the only ‘sector’ which has the word industries in its title? Again, kind of weird. When I think of industriousness – I think bees and hives… Although I’m a bee lover and understand their relevance to life, their organised networks, hierarchal ways of working and precise daily routines are the complete flip of any creative work I am aware of.  A plethora of different names have been used either before or after the word ‘hive’ to describe (usually) creative spaces and cool sounding events… Have a look, there are lots and are rarely good.

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The worst offender for me though is the overuse of ‘incubators’ and even ‘hatcheries’ to describe places where people work out of when they are starting up. This above image (clearly from days gone by) was one of the more pleasant images from a whole swathe of really not so nice images. The feathered incubation methods are pretty terrible in reality and don’t evoke the supportive environment that we claim they have…

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We even get into the mythical world in enterprise land – dragons and angels are as mythical to most businesses as their fairy tale counterparts – don’t get me started on unicorns! Yet we still hear about the role of threatening and powerful dragons who are seen to determine people’s life course in the blink of an eye on prime time TV and we wonder why we don’t have a more enterprising culture of young people keen to start businesses. Angels are worshipped, but rather than benefiting from their healing powers instead people long for another holy grail – investment. It feels time to put these storybooks tales to rest and find a better narrative.

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Murmurations are where it’s at – they epitomise how enterprise culture should happen, for me anyway. Dynamic networks where the overall co-ordination arises from interaction and communication with local neighbours, who are all connected into the much larger distributed network. There are no hierarchies, they are spontaneous, responsive and fluid – capable of shapeshifting and adapting to new pastures or threats on the horizon.

I’ve been reading a lot about starling murmurations and the future of organisational culture – both fascinate me. Starlings, because no-one entirely knows why thousands of them flock in this way each winter evening. Checking out risk-free places to roost is one theory, however scientists increasing acknowledge that this may simply be the way starlings communicate with each other.

And organisational culture… Reading pieces such as: Responsive.org, Orderly Processions are OverCreating Social Impact from Thoughtful Networks and the Future of Organisations, I still come across a few old dragon-like organisations. Hopefully by raising awareness of some of the troubles with the current enterprise environment and showing alternatives to being stuck in ‘the way we’ve always done it’ culture, we’ll see fewer agile organisations put to bed. More murmuration/organisational culture work coming soon I hope.

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