The Bee Theory of Group Behavior

I just ran across this comment about management by biologist Catherine Dulac of Harvard. It was published in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Bulletin. I thought it was so brilliant, such a refreshing way to look at the diverse personalities that make up any workplace, or an organization,  for that matter. She’s talking about the Harvard Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, but I think the observation is universal.

Dulac said: “The department’s dynamic has some amusing similarities with temperature control in honey bee hives. Bees vigorously flutter their wings to cool their hive when the temperature rises, and they contract their muscles to warm the hive when the temperature falls. The fascinating aspect of this process is that it requires genetic diversity. If the entire colony is genetically identical, all the bees react simultaneously, and the hive’s temperature is prone to brutal oscillations. Genetically diverse bees, in contrast, have different response thresholds to heat and cold. When one moves its wings, another feels nothing, and their actions balance to keep the hive’s temperature stable. Similarly, members of an academic department are quite different from each other. If some members are more sensitive than others about a specific point, that is a useful warning signal and the community is much richer, and more fun, for its diversity.”

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