STARLINGS HAVE MORE TO TEACH US

When we look at the murmuration of starlings, we realise there is something truly wonderful happening. But what if the way starlings communicate and keep this unity was something that could influence the way we understand business culture.



When starlings murmurate, they show us a spectacle and I have already made gestures towards this being a representation of governance.


Research by Dr Andrea Cavagna has shown us that there are key and simple rules by which starlings are able to flock with such synchronicity.


Interestingly, they get their reference points from the 7 birds that are closest to them. They rarely look to a single point of leadership, instead they take their lead from those immediately around them.


This range is significantly smaller than the number of visually unobstructed neighbours around each bird. Cavagna concludes that this specific value, 6-7, must derive from the cortical elaboration of the visual input, rather than from a limitation of the input itself. 


Meaning, the limitation comes from the starling’s ability to process, rather than their visual input.


What if we as humans were similarly influenced and limited?


This research suggests two things we might learn from starlings, and indeed perhaps other birds that flock:


Firstly, that collective animal behaviour is a means by which they ensure their survival, how they ensure the longevity of their species, and


Secondly, they do not look interestingly to a single point of leadership to determine their behaviour, they look to those immediately around them.


So, what am I saying here?


Without question, the behaviour of our leaders is important. We look to them to ‘live’ the values they record in the organisation’s mission, vision and values. If they do not, it certainly doesn’t help the 'hoped for culture' to grow.


But what if the key influencer in our behaviour was not the leadership, but 

those around us, 

those in our immediate vicinity, 

those who manage us, 

those we sit in meetings with, 

those whose decisions we are expected to follow.


What if then, when we think about culture, ‘the way we do things around here’, we don’t take as much of our reference point from leadership?


Would that change the way we implement cultural change?


I would expect so.


Thinking about your business, thinking about the 7 people you work most closely with or that influence you in a day to day basis.


Do they support you in your adherence to your organisation’s values?

Do they kindly and with candour nudge you when your decision making is of 'off piste'?

Do they act with kindness, openness and compassion?


If we are to move towards better, if we are to work more collaboratively and with meaning and purpose, we perhaps need to learn from starlings.


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"...moving organisations towards better governance"

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