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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

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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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.)
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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Avery (August 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583333908
  • ASIN: B004J8HXUY
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,261,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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.
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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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Format: Hardcover
Many of us are just beginning to come to terms with the reality that we have suddenly found ourselves in a completely different world with a completely different set of rules. The rapid emergence of the Digital Age is challenging all our assumptions about the ways we work together as the Internet transforms the world into an interconnected network that was inconceivable a mere 20 years ago. And while the technology revolution continues to expand the power of our possibilities, it also brings with it an unprecedented combination of accelerating change and escalating complexity that is severely testing the limits of established ways of thinking and acting. Most of us are learning the hard way that a new world requires the acceptance of new rules.

The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done by Peter Miller is an important contribution for those who are serious about mastering the unfamiliar challenges of accelerating change and escalating complexity. Miller cogently describes how the power of collective intelligence, as practiced by ants and birds and bees, may very well hold the secret for how we navigate the new rules of our new world.

The need for thinking differently, according to Miller, stems from the fact that the human brain isn't designed to tackle problems collectively. Thus, there are numerous mental traps that leaders fall into as they attempt to manage everyday challenges. For example, Miller describes the trap of "anchoring," where we give in to the tendency to overvalue the first thing we hear. The trap of the "status quo," which permeates hierarchical organizations, keeps us from bringing forward innovative ideas for fear of rocking the boat.
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