I did a podcast today on self-organization. There are a few companies whose leadership is not afraid of the employees they hire and they actually encourage their employees to think for themselves and for the company.
There are two important keys to getting human systems to self-organize; easily available information, and education in how to use it. Slime molds are wonderful examples of how this works. Slim molds are so adapt at trying lots of things and then communicating to everyone else what works that there has been a suggestion that they be used to design transportation systems.
There are others who are applying lessons learned from slime molds to education. Slime molds operate by very simple rules: go toward what works and retract from what doesn’t. The key is that they constantly communicate to everyone their experience. So if food is found in one direction everyone knows it and moves in that direction. If food is not found in a particular direction that too is communicated and the cells stop exploring in that area. There is not a lot of thinking (there is not a lot of brain) but there is a lot of yes, no, choices.
The ability to just say yes or no enable the mold to find the shortest distance between two points very rapidly, which is what prompted the transportation design comments. This video shows the mold solving a maze.
So how does it do that? It communicates; it asks for help; there is self-sacrifice; the individuals don’t argue with each other and they always tell the truth. They also work for the common good.
What would your culture be like if employees acted like that? You could ask Cummins Engine, or SAS Airlines, or even W.L Gore, Ltd. These are companies that have figured out that mutual respect combined with education and access to information can make a difference that impacts: morale, product development, customer service and the bottom line.
This isn’t a strategy for wusses. It takes commitment, money, time, follow-through and less ego than many leaders have. The pay-back is tremendous, but you have to be willing to continuously experiment, change and recommit to find the process that works for your organization. Once you get it right, it takes attention to keep it, but you can get it to become a core competency – you will head and shoulders ahead of the crowd and you will have achieved something that your competition can’t duplicate!