One of the most inspiring people I have ever heard present at a conference is Dr. Margaret Wheatley.
16 years ago or so, I saw Dr. Wheatley, who at the time was a theorist on chaos, speak at a conference on creativity. She said things that still resonate, about self-organizing systems. She showed a picture of a mound in Africa, about 25 feet high, built by termites. Despite extensive study, researchers could not find a termite leader. Teams of termites built what, relative to their size, is a structure far larger than humans have built, sky scrapers included. The only thing researchers could determine was that a termite’s function was determined by their place and the task at hand – where they were and what needed to be done determined who was in charge and how the work got done.
She showed a picture of a grove of Aspen trees. Aspens are the largest biological organism on earth – I didn’t know they grow from a common root system, and that the largest Aspen, in Michigan, covers over 2,000 square miles.
It seems like chaos, but chaos leads to order. I am a big believer in self-organizing teams and we now see this more and more within companies. Look at how many corporations now routinely and permanently distribute teams across the globe. My friend Tom Underwood, Head of Process Improvement, Global Operations and Product Leadership at Neilsen, runs quality for their consumer products unit and manages people in Kuala Lumpar, Chennai, Oxford, Brussels, Mexico City, NYC, Chicago, Shaumburg, Boston, Hong Kong, Moscow, Warsaw, and Singapore. Tom is just one of thousands of cases of individuals effectively managing people across the globe because they are mostly self-directed.
I stumbled across The Dr. Pat Show featuring Dr. Margaret Wheatley as a guest. My impression from Dr. Pat’s interview with Dr. Wheatley is that she has become more wholistic and global in her research or outlook, and while I’m not yet up to speed on her recent writings – her ideas on self-organizing systems and the source of inspiration are brilliant. Take a look at http://www.margaretwheatley.com/