Graham Birkenhead, January 30 2024

Look Differently

What don't you see?

We've probably all seen starlings.  Brownish birds that hang around in groups, often with quite thuggish behaviour as they swarm a food source to the exclusion of all other birds.  If you look a  little closer, you might notice that when they catch the light, there seems to be some iridescence to their feathers - and if you stand back you might see them flying in ominous or interesting patterns - depending on your perspective.

But if we look with even greater curiosity - then something quite amazing comes into sight.  An individual bird, when seen with bright light, suddenly displays a spectrum of colours including blues, greens, purples, and browns - and an array of bright dots.    And that is only what we humans can see; bird-vision extends into the ultraviolet range and so starling feathers have UV colours that are optimised to send messages to other birds.  

Each individual bird is unique (despite looking and acting like starlings).  That means they all respond slightly differently to things around them - including each other.  In fact, when flying, they constantly track and react to the 5 to 7 other birds closest to them.  When you have tens, or hundreds, or even thousands of birds all doing that, then you see the phenomenon that we have come to know as murmuration (you can see a video of murmuration here).   We can't model this behaviour specifically, but we can describe it generally.  The behaviour is emergent and ever changing.

That is not too different from individual people and the organisations or companies they form.  While we may be tempted to consider our staff as  'human resources', they are all unique individual people who respond to each other and the environment in which they find them selves. And, just as each starling's individual movements contribute to the ever changing collective pattern, each employee's individual contributions collectively shape the success of the organization.

While you can't directly control that overall behaviour, it is an opportunity for leadership to recognise and harness the potential within each individual, facilitating collaboration and innovation.  And so, you can create the environment or culture in which people will do and achieve amazing things together. 

Take some time to look closer at your people under different light, and stand back to see what is emerging.  Are you seeing what is truly there?  Are your people able to make the most of their unique talents?

If you have thoughts or questions about creating a culture in which people and their company can thrive, give me a call.




Read more about cooking up a great culture here:   A bowl of Cultural Soup

Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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