The Learning Organization Explained Through the Metaphor of Murmuration
Starlings show us how to learn and work in the era of globalization; they inform of us of the possibilities to lead, manage, contend with external policy and politics, yet remain connected and cohesive through master organization. They are born networkers and innovators. Here’s why:
Leadership: Starlings represent shared leadership. Even in the largest flock, information moves quickly and clearly through collaborative efforts. Distributive leadership develops a sustainable learning organization. When one starling changes direction or speed, each of the other birds in the flock responds to the change, and they do so nearly simultaneously regardless of the size of the flock. In essence, information moves across the flock very quickly and with nearly no degradation. The researchers describe it as a high signal-to-noise ratio. It is called a MURMURATION.
Management: Starlings represent personalization and connectivity. Each starling is part of the team, yet is able to move in its own manner. Similarly, a community of learners, needs to follow their paths through personalized instruction, yet revisit the group to acquire support, mentoring and feedback. Each individual starling focuses its attention on seven of its neighbors; and as the flock turns and wheels around the sky, it responds to the movements of these particular individuals. So no matter how far these birds are driven apart, they will gradually move back towards each other (Young, 2013).
Policy and Politics: Starlings teach us to question and challenge policies and politics. Depending on one’s point of view, starlings may be laudable or a nuisance. Despite one’s view, starlings have spread all over North America. They have been able to adapt to many climates and environments prevailing over policies that have been designed to reduce their populations. The European Starling was purposefully introduced to North America in 1890–1891 by the American Acclimation Society, an organization dedicated to introducing European flora and fauna into North America for cultural and economic reasons. Eugene Schieffelin, chairman at the time, allegedly decided all birds mentioned by William Shakespeare should be in North America. The bird had been mentioned in Henry IV, Part I, and a hundred of them were released from New York’s Central Park (Young, 2013)
Organization: Starlings are symbolic of the value of diversity in organizations. Their organizational patterns, or murmurations are key to their survival. Each murmuration is innovative in its response to predators, wind velocity and the sustainability of the species. This is visible to the human eye. The starlings are generally a highly social family. Most species associate in flocks of varying sizes throughout the year. A flock of starlings is called a murmuration. These flocks may include other species of starlings and sometimes species from other families. This sociality is particularly evident in the their roosting behavior; in the non-breeding season some roosts can number in the thousands of birds. (Young, 2013).
Cohesion: Starlings have innately conducted research; as Deming would agree, to work smarter, not harder. In their community of seven within the entire flock, starlings are able to form a cohesive unit with the least amount of effort. Innovation and sustainability are key. Flocks of starlings exhibit a remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information. Recent work demonstrated that individual starlings within large flocks respond to a fixed number of nearest neighbors, but until now it was not understood why this number is seven. We analyze robustness to uncertainty of consensus in empirical data from multiple starling flocks and show that the flock interaction networks with six or seven neighbors optimize the trade-off between group cohesion and individual effort. The results suggest that robustness to uncertainty may have been a factor in the evolution of flocking for starlings. (Young, 2013).
So, I take this lesson from the starlings on my journey. My “murmurations” represent the dimensions and the varied array of places to learn, reflections, shared ideas, and connections and the journey continues into the future.