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The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 5, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Avery (August 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583333908
  • ASIN: B004J8HXUY
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,873,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Insects are social creatures, perhaps even more social—in the strict scientific sense—than humans since they lack such socially obstructing attributes as ego, personality, and opinion. Miller, senior editor at National Geographic, examines hives, mounds, colonies, and swarms, whose complex systems of engagement and collective decision making have catalyzed innovations in engineering and can suggest solutions to such problems as climate change. The sophisticated system of decentralized interdependence exhibited by termites invites a lesson on how to respond to emergencies, while the chemical-based communications among African ants helped officials at Southwest Airlines define their seating policy. Insects, birds, and fish variously demonstrate the plausibility and success of disorganization leading to self-organization and leaderless processes. Adding understanding to the dark side of group dynamics and, inevitably, mob behavior is the study of locusts, innocuous until they become part of a crowd. Miller informs, engages, entertains, and even surprises in this thought-provoking study of problem making and problem solving, and through the comparison of human and insect scenarios, shows how social cues and signals can either bring about social cooperation or destruction. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"I loved The Smart Swarm. It's been a while since I was this stimulated by a book, or saw so many practical applications. And what a great read."
-Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics

"With an eye for detail and an easy style, Peter Miller explains why swarm intelligence has scientists buzzing."
-Steven Strogatz, author of Sync, and Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University

"Most people can't fathom that ants, bees, and other social insects have found solutions to some of modern society's most vexing problems. In The Smart Swarm, Peter Miller offers a fascinating and articulate tour of what these creatures can do, how they do it, and the lessons for humans. This book is a gem, with a message that is as extraordinarily counter intuitive as it is valuable."
-Michael J. Mauboussin, Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management and author of Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition

"[Peter Miller] has proven that there is intelligent life on earth, but it is not necessarily us. What a delightful, eye-opening book."
-Martin Cruz Smith, author of Gorky Park and Stalin's Ghost


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Customer Reviews

It's also very well written.
Drea Knufken
This book is concerned with the collective intelligence displayed by groups of ants, honeybees, termites, fishes, and birds.
Pichierri Fabio
I learned so much from reading this book.
bridget3420

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Jim Estill on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I loved it and found it captivating.

The book explains how things like ant colonies interact (more interesting than you would think). First thing in the morning the scout ants take off. When they return, the gatherer ants leave but only if there is the right number of scouts returning - not enough or too many at once - danger. And if they find food, they carry it back to the nest and release a scent that other ants follow to find the food. Fascinating.

Ant colonies accomplish great things (especially termites that build termite hills to vent the carbon dioxide from the colony and provide fresh air from the wind).

Although colonies accomplish great things, the individual ants are not too bright.

Case after case in the book (like why birds that flock don't bump into each other) point out the intelligence of the group even if the individuals only focus on the few individuals around them. They are leaderless groups. Even the bee hive does not have a leader. The queen lays eggs but does not decide where they live or where the food is. Specialists each do their job.

So how does this relate to business? Studies have shown that the collective group is more intelligent than the individual.

So what does this say about the CEO or leader? As I always knew - often a leader can hinder decision making. It is incumbent on the leader (whether by formal position or just by reputation/expertise) to make others feel worthy of speaking up. And in many senses, minimizing themselves so the group can make the best decision.

Awesome book - captivating read.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sam Santhosh VINE VOICE on November 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Through a very insightful book, Peter Miller turns to Nature to explain crowd behavior. Leveraging upon numerous scientific studies, Peter elaborates the principles through which even insects with low individual intelligence perform extraordinary feats of brilliance as a group. That too without hierarchy or elaborate rules!

Peter Miller calls this intelligent group behavior - the smart swarm. He then explains how the smart swarm works - using biology to unlock the secrets of collective behavior. The dangers of group behavior are also brought out through the examples of locusts - which is useful to understand how human groups also sometimes turn violent.

What are the principles of smart swarms?

The first principle of a smart swarm is self organization. Through the basic mechanisms of decentralized control, distributed problem solving and multiple interactions, members of a group without being told can transform simple rules of thumb into meaningful patterns of collective behavior. This is explained through the functioning of ant colonies - that is "Though Ant's aren't smart, why Ant colonies are?"

The second principle of a smart swarm is 'diversity of knowledge' - which is basically achieved through a broad sampling of the swarm's options, followed by a friendly competition of ideas. Then using an effective mechanism to narrow down the choices, swarms can achieve 'wisdom of crowds'. The honeybees example of choosing a new nest illustrates this very clearly - and Peter shows how communities and businesses can build trust and make better decisions by adapting this,

The third principle is indirect collaboration.
Read more ›
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Reader from Chicago on August 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In today's world of total global competition and global social networks where the future of the world is being discussed, the field of biomimicry is being embraced by leading thinkers in order to capitalize on nature's hard earned lessons. This book brings those lessons to life and provides a basis for better understanding the true impact of our wired world. After you've digested Miller's work, you may want go further and read Ken Thompson's Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Most Successful Designs. Bioteams reveals how business enterprises, supply chains, high-tech ventures, public sector organizations and not-for-profits are turning to nature's best designs to create agile, high performing teams --and provides the human protocols that are needed for successful teams.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Drew Wallen on September 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a clear, concise exposition of certain behaviors in macro-organisms which consist of many individuals. By themselves, the individuals are not too "smart" but each is programmed with certain simple rules. When gathered together the hive, colony, swarm or flock behaves with more appropriate reactions than each individual can.

Systematic and well written. Understandable almost to the point of being "dumbed down" and organized to sell the lesson. This book couldn't be better for an interested layperson.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Spider Monkey on January 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
`Smart Swarm' is a superb book looking at various swarming animals and what lessons we may learn from their behaviours.

Each chapter focuses on a different animal (Ants, Bees, Termites, Swallows and Locusts, with Fish and Caribou thrown in for good measure) and starts off by exploring their specific behaviour and then relates a human situation where a similar things is done, or could be done. This has plenty of real world examples of various experiments conducted, which clarify some of the points and also includes examples where businesses have improved their organisations based on the ideas put across here.

I found the first two chapters, on Ants and Bees, the most fascinating and can see future real world applications to use the knowledge gleaned from these ingenious creatures in global businesses. The other chapters are also very good and this has plenty of intriguing and interesting information, put across in a very clear and lucid way.

If you enjoy popular science books or popular sociology/psychology then this will be right up your street. It is `sciency' enough to satisfy the inner geek in us all and, as it's not too heavy or jargon laden, accessible enough to be enjoyed as bedtime/commuting or general reading material.

I enjoyed this book immensely and recommend it if the premise of this even mildly grabs your interest.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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