Video: What Ants Teach Us About Community and Collaboration

I enjoyed watching The Secret World of Ants this morning on CBS. Watch this fascinating video trailer from the show. (Sorry for the commercials before and after the video — but it is worth watching.)

It is interesting to see what ants can teach us about the benefits of cooperation and collaboration. Here are three things ants can teach us about how cooperation and collaboration make us all better.

  1. Smarter together. Ant expert, Mark Moffett, said that, even if you hate ants, if you watch one alone long enough, you'll feel sorry for it, and want to help it. Similarly, if you observe a person long enough, you'll see all of their flaws and shortcomings, and if you have any humanity at all, you will want to help if you can.

    Consider, however, the positive power that a group of like-minded people experience, both individually and collectively, when they come together unselfishly to help each other succeed. This is the force that allows ants, as dumb as they are individually, to create elaborate living structures, feed themselves, and destroy their enemies — all things none of them could do alone.

  2. Don't overthink. Have you heard of analysis paralysis? Of course you have, and so have I. In fact, I was (lovingly) accused of it by one of my MasterMind partners just yesterday. Once I got over it, I realized he was right.

    According to the CBS story, ants don't spend time planning and organizing every little thing. Instead, they have a specific jobs to do, and they do them.

    As business owners, we can't afford to be quite so carefree, but we all need to remind ourselves about the value of going for it, and figuring out the details as we go. Yes, it's a bit scary. But so is planning forever — and ending up with nothing.

  3. The wisdom of the crowd creates efficiencies. The aluminum castings of ant colonies displayed in the video provide a fascinating glimpse into what collaboration can accomplish. So long as everyone cooperates toward specific goals, and so long as everyone has the best interests of the group at heart, there's no stopping — or predicting — the amazing things that can be accomplished.

According to the story, Southwest Airlines's decision to board flights without pre-assigning seat numbers to passengers is based on the observation of ant colonies. Turns out that if passengers giving passengers pre-assigned seat numbers slows down the boarding process. But when passengers are allowed to board in an orderly fashion, and sit where they want to sit, there's more cooperation and the whole process is more efficient.

Clearly, ants are one of nature's greatest mysteries, but what we know about how they work together gives rises to interesting ideas about how we can work together in community. As Moffet said in the interview, “Basically, all those little ants with their mostly ignorant choices, out of all that emerges a smart society.” You can read the story here.

A rising tide lifts all ships, and the more we keep that in mind, the better off we'll all be.

Question: What do you think about what ants teach us about collaboration?

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.