We know that per capita innovation and productivity explode when a city grows in size, but when companies grow, productivity and innovation per employee go down. What’s the difference?
Biomimicry (the art and science of innovation inspired by nature) can help us figure it out, because nature’s teams scale even better than cities do. Ant colonies and honeybee hives survived and thrived for millions of years––what can they teach us about working together at scale? First and foremost, the ants and the bees grow their organizations like living things. They start with a compelling shared purpose (what could be more important than nurturing the next generation?) and grow value from the bottom up by working together in small, modular teams of diverse and autonomous individuals.
Contrast that with most companies, where a heavy infrastructure of hierarchical management tries to engineer growth from the top down, like a machine. Machines require constant and expensive maintenance, and everything needs to be standardized and replaceable. Small wonder that 70% of workers are disengaged! Who wants to be a cog in a machine?
But how can we scale up without the efficiencies of standardization? The ants and bees can show us how to grow organizations where innovation, agility, and engagement flourish. They dispense with the bureaucracy and control that crushes today’s workplaces. Everyone simply does whatever they think is best at that moment. Strategy happens organically, all the time and everywhere, as countless small, imperfect, local bits of work add up. We can design companies that do the same thing. It starts with a compelling shared purpose––moonshot dreams we believe in––and small, modular teams of diverse, autonomous, and mutually accountable individuals.