Opinion and Analysis
Business lessons from the unending buzz of a beehive
Posted Thursday, August 2 2012 at 20:38
Lessons from the bees
- Think about tomorrow, today
- Merit trumps the alternative, any day
- To eat the honey, contribute to the hive, or be out
I recently came across a beautiful book by Michael O’Malley titled Wisdom of Bees. It has been one of those books I define as ‘unputdownable’. So profound is the wisdom therein that I felt it worth to share some of the gems.
Watching bees in a hive quickly reveals a super orchestrated performance that even the best military parade would fall short.
So how do thousands of bees working without reference to a specific blueprint organise themselves so successfully?
To gather nectar that makes honey, honeybees fly at more than 24km/h flapping their wings at amazing 230 beats per second and covering a territorial radius of slightly more than three kilometres, but may go as far as eight kilometres away from the hive.
They gather as much as 22kg of nectar per day, producing up to 130kg of honey annually. One kilogramme of honey requires close to 200,000km of flight. One teaspoon of honey represents the lifetime work of roughly, a dozen bees. Talk of working as hard as a bee!
Bees have developed systems that rival the humans in terms of complexity and efficiency. They do all the things we do and according to James Gould in The Animal Mind, they are some of the few species that can actually communicate as well as think, among other capabilities like geo-positioning.
It’s only fair that as managers, we listen to the buzz from the hive and learn a few lessons. I call it ‘bee-economy’.
Lesson 1: Think about tomorrow, today
All a bee does is in anticipation of the future. When a lucrative vein of nectar is found, the entire colony doesn’t rush to mine it no matter how enriching the short term benefits.
They know that someday, the nectar there will stop flowing and they will need to rapidly reallocate resources to other productive sites.
Thus, they must already know where those sites are and must have established operations, however minimal; talk of diversification and not putting your eggs in one basket.
From a business angle, bees invest heavily in research and development, constantly on the lookout for the next best thing, while taking in revenues from the available sources.
Research In Motion, the makers of the BlackBerry, failed to take in this wisdom. They failed to discover that their source of plenty might eventually dwindle.
They overindulged and underexplored and before they knew it, Apple came from ‘nowhere’. Since they say history repeats itself, my hope is that Apple will not be found snoozing by Samsung.
Lesson 2: Merit trumps the alternative, any day