You’re in a flock – about starling intelligence, google and leadership

Lose control to get control. Seems like something a zen-master would say. Don’t credit me wrong, I’m not (yet).

So what’s about the losing control to get control then?

First things first: get back to now
I’ll get to that in a second. First things first. This evening I donated blood for the first time. Lamazone was there as well. Moral support was great, but what we talked about afterwards was even more rewarding.

Here’s what happened. As we walked home in the late evening sun we started talking about what it meant to let go and how shutting up your consciousness gets you back to the here and now.

How long before you realize you’re awake?
The latter, being a necessary condition to let your body (your whole body) do its job at its fullest extent, is easy to forget. This morning for instance I woke up and started planning from the moment I opened my eyes. It took me 45 minutes (!) to realize I was ‘here’, lying in a soft bed, beside a beautiful woman I love. Forty five minutes I was all getting nervous about stuff I had to do instead of being there and enjoying waking up.


Complexity is not consciously controlled. starlings know that.
So Lamazone and I talked about how most complex things aren’t built by conscious control but by strategic principles in movement.

You were saying?

My coach told me about starlings and how they flock in the air and make up these beautiful patterns. If you think these are ‘controlled’ because these starlings have a leader and an internalized system and hierarchy, forget it. These starlings can fly and form these flocks because they follow three rules: 1. don’t bump into each other, 2. adjust your speed to the speed of those around you, 3. fly towards the perceived centre.

Google and starlings, one and the same
I argued that Google works the same way. It isn’t consciously controlled but built while moving, and according to some basic principles. Lamazone doubted. Aren’t people different from starlings in that they are – well, all individually different?

Are starlings all one and the same I wondered? I don’t think so. Yet what matters here is that in the googlian universe we see human nature at flockwork. There are some basic principles we use when dealing with information and with the world which we aren’t consciously aware of but which are exposed in our flock nature as is present when using and creating the internet.

Probability is the key to survival
Consider the internet the bunch of birds. A google request is a movement, an event to which the flock responds in a certain way, governed by principles, not by control. The outcome of the request is a result which is probably the most appropriated result, though not the most accurate.

But accurateness is not needed in order to survive. Probability is. It’s enough for a species to get it most likely right in order to survive. Getting it perfectly right gets you killed. If you get it perfectly right, chances are you aren’t able to adapt to shifting circumstances (varying input). That’s why machines don’t work in the real world :o).

A leader does first what everybody else does
So there we were, talking about how letting go is about allowing your hyperintelligent body (brains as well as the rest of your body) to think in interaction with the outside world and realize its full potentiol. To be part of the flock and be open to responses that can save your life. To lead in adaptability, which is basically “doing it before anyone else does”.

Back to reality
Suddenly Lamazone had to go one way and I the other. So we said goodbye. But before we parted I wanted to invite Lamazone over for a drink on our rooftop terrace so I started planning and thinking out loud. That’s when she said: “I can’t this week. But don’t worry, don’t try to control it. Everything will work out fine.” As I left, I walked home with a big smile on my face, recounting how we’d met, through a mixture of coincidence triggered by probability and networks cluttering around common interests. Flock behaviour.


Enjoy your evening, and thanks for your attention. Much appreciated.

More about flocking and other herd-related stuff

Photo: Starling Flock © eduardoizquierdo

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2 thoughts on “You’re in a flock – about starling intelligence, google and leadership

  1. […] times of need, we flock (more on flocks here). Why? Not because we’re shy, but because we’re smart. Because deep down, we’ve […]

  2. […] also very competitive, with companies bidding on keywords as they vie to outdo their rivals You’re in a flock – about starling intelligence, google and leadership – 04/08/2009 Lose control to get control. Seems like something a zen-master […]

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