What Bugs Can Teach Bosses

A recent book on the shelves is by author Ken Thompson. He talks in “Book about Bugs” about the things we can learn from animals and insects. While I don’t agree with the way in which the popular media has minimalized his ideas to create humor pieces, I find the concept fascinating. I tell my staff at our Indiana computer outsourcing company that our organizational model is based on the structure of an ant colony.

Most people believe that an ant colony is ruled by the queen and every other ant follows her orders. The truth is 180 degrees from that. In an ant colony, every ant has a basic job and she (they are all female) goes about doing it without any management ants telling her to do so. In fact, ants operate from a basic rule that they should do the thing that most needs done right now. I like that concept for organization and efficiency. The trick to making this work as an effective organizational tool is to:

  1. Make sure you have the right people to begin with.
  2. Make sure everyone is trained to do her job (and cross trained to do others).
  3. Let go of the idea that there should be some “big boss” who tells everyone what to do.
  4. Set guiding goals so that people can determine what the best use of their time is.
  5. Provide feedback that allows everyone to see how the organization is doing toward its goals.

These are not easy things for a small business to do. They are nearly impossible for a big business.


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