What do companies and beehives have in common? It’s not the set up for a bad joke about drones, but rather, an important question about behavioural psychology. We often think of bees in the collective, a vast swam working with military obedience to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the hive. However, as keynote speaker Rory Sutherland points out, some bees ignore the ‘waggle dance’, a pattern of movement used to attract the attention of other bees. Without these disruptive bees, the hive would starve, unable to adapt to environmental changes in the distribution of pollen.
Thankfully, office workers don’t communicate through dance. If you saw Rob from accounts waggling around in the office kitchen, you’d probably ignore him too. But by changing patterns of behaviour and being self-disruptive, workers and companies can maintain their buzz.
Shake up the way you communicate
While a mafia kingpin might tell you “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, Princeton University’s Greg Stephens says that during successful conversations – even those related to business – both a listener and a communicator’s brain cells synchronise. This means that during a good conversation, two minds can literally meld together. Empathy and intuition play a big role in how human beings understand each other, and with brains that have evolved to rely on ‘trust indicators’ like voice intonation and body language, you’re much more likely to have a productive conversation if you actually talk to someone. An email might feel efficient as you click send, but if you want your colleagues or clients to remember you, pick up the phone!
Disrupt your colleagues
That doesn’t mean throwing paper aeroplanes at your desk mates. Social information is the lifeblood of any community, and we can either self-disrupt or self-destruct depending on how we, or other social creatures from the animal kingdom, use it. While experienced bees tend to use the waggle dance for information about food sources, maverick forager bees sometimes rely upon personal knowledge from their gathering sprees, instead of waiting to be told what to do. By switching up information-use strategies, the balance between the approaches of these two kinds of bees allows the swarm to thrive. So if you can suggest a new way of doing things, or share a great idea, your ‘hive’ will be healthier for it.
Redesign your environment, and make your office work for you
Have you ever wondered why bees build hexagons, instead of circles or squares? Sue Cobey, a researcher from Washington State University has the answer, “The geometry of this shape uses the least amount of material to hold the most weight”. As the strongest and most efficient shape for holding honey, bees save themselves a lot of time and energy by building with it. By redesigning your environment, you can make your space work for you in a similar way. Using dual computer monitors has been shown to increase productivity, while keeping objects needed for key tasks nearby and storing unnecessary things can reduce stress. Investing in a desk that can be moved up and down, allowing you to either stand or sit, can also help you tune into your levels of energy at work, and is a great example of pattern breaking behaviour that can boost your productivity.
Think small when tackling big problems
A bee can beat a super computer to the solution of the ‘travelling salesman’ math problem. Even when flowers are presented in a changing order, bees learn to fly the shortest possible route for collecting pollen. As masters of efficiency, they not only refine their routes by copying other workers, but also by improving on what they see. As well as proving that a bigger brain isn’t always better; this shows that that difficult problems can always be simplified. You might think a bigger budget or a big idea is what is needed to solve a complex problem, but by paying attention to smaller details, as well switching up your problem-solving behaviour, you can improve the efficiency of your entire office.
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