Who Let The Bugs Out? How Organizations Can Improve Performance By Studying…Insects!
In the Big Picture, organizations haven’t been around all that long. On top of that, the longevity of organizations is substantially less. According to a Bank of Korea report in 2008, there are only about 5,500 companies in 41 countries that are more than 200 years old. To put things in a more contemporary context, out of the top 25 companies in the United States in 1961, only 6 remain today. Organizations just don’t last and there are many reasons as to why.
In this series, I offer the reader an opportunity to stretch their thinking a little and look at something that has stood the test of time to see if we can learn anything that will help organizations last longer. I’m talking about bugs!
Insects have been around for 300 million years and they have the potential to stay for hundreds of millions more. There are a number of reasons for this as well, but the main one that I think we can use in the comparison to organizational fitness and longevity, is adaptability. They can survive in the most difficult conditions, and they continue to thrive. There are more species of insects than all other animals combined on our planet.
In this series, I take a look at a number of insects that have qualities organizations should pay more attention to. Who’s to say we can’t learn from them? And oh, by the way, if you hate insects, you should definitely read the series!
First in the series…Praying Might Be More Than It’s Cracked Up To Be!
Once upon a time, an organizational consultant named Herky began his quest to find out how insects can help shape organizations through what we can learn from them. He went on a field trip one hot and sunny day into the deep forest. His goal was to find insects, to observe them, to study them, and to find out what some of these creatures were all about. Then, just when he wasn’t expecting it, he saw it.
A strange looking creature between 3 and 4 inches long with a greenish brown sleek body, four long spindly legs and a backside that looked exactly like a leaf. Herky looked more closely and he saw that this creature had a long neck and a green head with huge round compounded eyes that looked like it came right out of an alien movie. It had two thin snakelike antennae on the top of it’s head, and then he saw the most prominent feature of this unusual specimen, it’s long front limbs folded out in front of it as if it were praying.
Yes, Herky had discovered a praying mantis!
“Wow, you’re awesome!” Herky said as looked more closely at the creature, and then it slowly turned it’s head and said,
“Why thank you sir. I take it you haven’t seen one of me before have you?”
“Ummmm….NO”, Herky said as he was totally freaked out by this insect talking to him, but he figured what the heck.
He went on to tell the mantis about his idea for using insects and the lessons they can teach us to help our organizations get better. Herky asked the mantis, “What can we learn from you Oh Praying One?”
The mantis thought for a while and then he said, “I have 3 lessons for you, and I will only say them once.” Herky listened attentively and made copious notes. When the mantis was done, Herky thanked it and it slowly turned and walked away.
“These are PERFECT” Herky thought as he looked at the 3 lessons the mantis shared with him.
The first lesson was that the praying mantis is the only insect that can turn it’s head 180 degrees in either direction. The only insect that can see everything around him. Isn’t that something organizations need to learn Herky thought? To pay attention to everything that is going on around them, the economic environment, trends in the industry, what their competitors are doing, how they can use new technology? Of course they do.
The second lesson that the mantis shared with Herky is that there have been two martial arts developed based on it’s movements and fighting strategies. Every move the mantis makes is calculated, purposeful, and disciplined. They don’t waste energy. Aren’t those important attributes for organizations as well? Herky thought they were.
Finally, Herky reviewed the 3rd lesson that the mantis had taught him, and this was perhaps the most profound. You see, it turns out that the female mantis has a tendency to bite the head off of the male mantis during sex. Now the reason for this is that apparently the male mantis is a better lover when his brain (the part of him that controls inhibition) is cut off from his body (the part that controls copulation).
This quirky painful characteristic of the mantis has huge implications for organizational development Herky thought. It means that the leaders in organizations need to stop using their brains so much. They’re too much in their heads. They would be much better leaders if they were in their hearts and in their bodies more, like, women for example. Organizations need to be more feminine and less masculine. Herky smiled as he thought about how he was going to share this lesson with CEOs of large corporations.
After Herky reflected on the 3 lessons shared with him by the praying mantis, Herky was positive that insects could help him change the way organizations think. He left the forest that day with enthusiasm and confidence, looking forward to discovering what lessons other insects could teach him.