Biomimicry, Rangers in Manchester, and the (Un)wisdom of Crowds

Violence broke out at the EUFA Cup Final in Manchester. Rangers fans were reviled for the injuries and damage caused. A new book on biomimicry may throw light on the ‘unwisdom’ of crowds

The day of the EUFA cup-final in Manchester [Wednesday May 14th 2008] was unusually sunny, and quiet. An estimated 200,000 fans, mostly of Glasgow Rangers had poured into the city, and spent a lot of the day soaking up the sun, and the stocks of pubs in the city and surrounding region. The atmosphere was not even particularly buzzy.

A few busses seem to have been used for sight-seeing, and were plying their trade along Oxford Road, bedecked with Rangers flags and standard bearers.

The low-profile policing policy seemed to be working. Providing large screen television also seemed a good idea at the time.

The Mood Changes

A few minutes before the match, the large screen transmission in Piccadilly Gardens broke down. Anticipation turned to anxiety, turned to anger. Attempts to fix the screen were hindered by missiles from the crowd. There followed rapid escalation, arrival of riot police, and more escalation. You can find a much-publicised U-tube via the BBC report. Elsewhere, a Zenit (St Petersburg) fan was stabbed.

Public outcry. Prime Minister demands an enquiry.

Bloodshed and Bioteams

The same day Leaders we deserve received notice of a book which seemed pertinent. It came with the enticing title Bioteams.

The following is from its own publicity release:

Traditional organizational teams [have] just became extinct

With the emergence of global Internet collaboration, social networks and mobile communications, the very meaning of the word “team” has changed –changed utterly. Ken Thompson, former European IT Manager with Reuters and a pioneer of the burgeoning “biomimicry” design movement, has mapped out a fundamentally new model for teams. He teaches organizations how they can look to the natural world to create high performance “bioteams” based on nature’s best designs.

In his just-released book, Bioteams, Thompson offers a way to build exceptionally agile, high performing teams based on a thorough examination of the key communication principles that underpin nature’s most successful groups –from signal bursts of migrating flocks of geese, to the waggle dance of honeybees, to the pheromone trails laid down by ants. Based on nature’s communication patterns, he provides a complete set of practical techniques that have been proven with real teams in the field, whose stories are described in a comprehensive set of case studies in the book.

[According to Thompson] “Using the principles of bioteaming, command-and-control leadership gives way to connect-and-collaborate, where every member of an organizational team is a ‘leader.’ In nature and in bioteams, leaders don’t give commands, they transmit information, trusting the team members’ competencies and gaining accountability through transparency. True team leadership is about cooperation, not control. It’s about acting on opportunities, and letting others lead the leader when they know best about getting stuff done.”

Bioteams offers a vision of what successful teaming experiences look like. More than a book about team dynamics, Bioteams offers stories, principles, and guidelines showing how any individual can successfully participate in almost any work or learning-related situation faced today.

The (Un)Wisdom of Crowds

There has been increasingly attention in recent leadership writings to the wisdom of crowds after the popular book of that title by James Surowiecki

It is an interesting concept. Now I find myself uplifted by the thinking in Bioteams about how I can ‘successfully participate in almost any work or learning-related situation faced today’. So I’ll probably get Mr. Thompson’s book. Any subscriber who reads it before me, will find a place for a review in a future post.

In reading it, I’ll be trying hard to understand the unwisdom of crowds on that balmy night when Rangers came to town.


Image attributed to James Thew

8 Responses to Biomimicry, Rangers in Manchester, and the (Un)wisdom of Crowds

  1. Procrastination King says:

    “I’ll be trying hard to understand the unwisdom of crowds on that balmy night when Rangers came to town.”

    The crowd are the workers or drones. They swarm and sting when the nest is upset. They work the queen – the football business in this case – by paying money, and advertising it by wearing clothing to advertise the business . In exchange the worker gets the service of being in a swarm, a feeling of comfort, belonging and identity. Most of all is the freedom from the fear of being attacked by the crowd they are joining.

    The crowd is not wise. It is predicable though: a crowd makes great consumers, citizens and armies. The crowd’s “brain” operates in limbic mode, the cerebral cortex is absent. It is emotionally , not intellectually driven.

    Ranger’s fans limbic systems have evolved for fight, flight, food and fornication not for the general optimization of the development of Manchester as football loving city or football as a vehicle for international diplomacy. Evolution is driven by fights for survival, not goodwill and optimization through co-operation.

    To optimize the use of resources on the planet, the workers and drones will have to learn how to control their limbic responses. Otherwise the sources of stimuli will be unwitting press-gangers for the crowd. Is the wisdom of the crowd to underpin the the credibility of the leader we deserve?

  2. Tudor says:

    Thanks PK.

    You ask ‘Is the wisdom of the crowd to underpin the credibility of the leader we deserve?’. That’s a really creative question. Perhaps a wise one. I wish I had a really creative and wise answer.

    There is something important about leadership to be learned.

    At the event with Charles Style recently at Manchester Business School, there was discussion about the conditions for absence of leadership. These conditions were connected with the culture of the alienated. It would be interested to learn what Charles has to say.

  3. Tudor,

    An extract from my book (“Dictatorial CEOs & their Lieutenants – Inside the Executive Suites of Napoleon, Stalin, Ataturk, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao”) may be relevant to this topic:

    “All CEOs benefit from the need of people to believe in someone who can take care of unfamiliar or scary issues, leaving them to get on with their daily lives and work. Sometimes belief in a mystical God fulfils this need, but often – and sometimes concurrently – this need is fulfilled by ‘a Man’: some individual who is perceived to be so special and unique that religious terminology is often used in reference to him.

    While a CEO can achieve and maintain dictatorial power without being ‘the Man’, that power will be precarious because of its narrow base of discipline and reward – that is, a narrow base of ‘interest and fear’. Being ‘the Man’ adds emotion to the support base of the dictatorial CEO: what people want to believe and what they hope for blinds them to many realities, and often wilfully so; they became gullible, often to an extreme degree. What would otherwise be seen as good, is seen as very good; what would otherwise be seen as very bad, is seen as merely bad; logical connections between issues and events are dismissed in favour of more emotional responses; and the alternatives to the dictatorial CEO are regarded with excessive concern.

    Those people – in a country, or in any other organisation – who believe in ‘the Man’ provide not only a powerful general support base, but the well from which the successful dictatorial CEO draws many of his lieutenants.

    As Mussolini put it, “people do not want to rule, but to be ruled and to be left in peace”. This is what attracted Albert Speer to Hitler and the Nazi party in the early 1930s: “My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts … In this I did not differ from millions of others.”

    Aspiring and actual dictatorial CEOs exploit these desires. They know, as Hitler said, that “the masses need an idol”, and they encourage and promote this idea. In 1937, when Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, had a birthday and wanted to take a ride on the new Moscow Metro, Stalin – who rarely made public appearances – decided to join the group in a special train. The passengers going to and from the other trains noticed Stalin and gave him ovations. One of Stalin’s group later described his reaction: “He sort of said about the ovations given to him: the people need a tsar; that is, a person to whom they can bow low and in whose name they can live and work.”

    As use of the term “a Tsar” suggests, ‘the Man’ is only one of several terms that can be used to convey the same sentiment; others, as we shall see, include “Tribune” and “God” himself.

    Aspiring and actual dictatorial CEOs also know that this desire for someone special who can ‘rule’ and deal with ‘unpleasant facts’ – particularly in times of organisational stress – is so strong that a blind eye will often be turned to concerns about methods.

  4. Paul McDonald says:

    Hi Tudur,

    As a Scotsman I’m appalled at some of the scenes in Manchester but as a Celtic fan I’m compelled to follow the standard line of “that’s Rangers fans for you”.

    It’s interesting that the trouble only started when the screens failed and the crowd lost contact with their leaders on the pitch. Analogies could be drawn with military techniques where a command structure is taken down resulting in anarchy among the troops. By all accounts the day had been remarkably peaceful up until that point.

    Perhaps what was needed was simply a backup line of communication between the crowds and their leaders, I’m sure a radio could have been hooked up to the PA system to keep communications open and appease the crowds. I suspect the last thing a leaderless crowd needs is an enemy showing up in full riot gear.

    It is fortunate though, that there were some true leaders there on the day. I read a story about one Manchester native, a 23-year old former TA soldier, who fought back the hordes of Rangers fans caught on CCTV attacking an isolated police man, before dragging the injured police man round the corner and throwing him into a moving police van to escape. Apparently, the same chap had earlier rescued a fan who had fallen into the canal and later that evening he done a 200 yard sprint with an unconscious fan on his shoulders to catch an ambulance. What a guy! Is the armed forces the only place where that kind of leadership can be learned these days?

  5. Tudor says:

    Thanks Paul

    A friend who was there, made much the same point about the general crowd behaviour.

    I hadn’t heard about the heroic actions of one person. It has not been given as much publicity as the main ‘rioting fans’ line. It sounds rather like the crazily heroic mood of winners of the Victoria Cross. Sometimes it seems to ‘just happen’ without the person having at track-record of courage. ‘I just had to do it’ is the closest explation I’ve heard. It baffles the economists, who can’t quite fit it into theories of self-interest.

    Best wishes


  6. procrastination king says:

    Paul McDonald Said
    “It’s interesting that the trouble only started when the screens failed and the crowd lost contact with their leaders on the pitch.”

    Their leaders were not on the pitch. The ‘leader’ is the football culture which drives the behavior of the fanatic. This culture is at the heart of the success of any football business. At the core of the culture is identity formulated from geographic location, social class and religion. The players on the pitch are not leaders, they are icons used to support the production of the culture, payed for by the owners of the business.

    “Analogies could be drawn with military techniques where a command structure is taken down resulting in anarchy among the troops. ”

    I wager that the ‘command structure’ in the crowd was evident to the members of the crowd. In Stoke-on -Trent at least, leadership techniques from the Army have informed football hooliganism leadership enabling Stoke City to enjoy a reputation for hooliganism. The ‘Naughty Forty’s’ firm’s leader was Mark Chester who served in the Staffordshire regiment.
    Chesters book is reveals the comradeship and brotherhood common to army culture and football fanatics’ culture.

  7. […] public links >> wisdomofcrowds links for 2008-01-08 Saved by prashantag on Mon 27-10-2008 Biomimicry, Rangers in Manchester, and the (Un)wisdom of Crowds Saved by simasj on Mon 27-10-2008 Book Review: The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki Saved by […]

  8. […] events that turned violent in Manchester after an important international cup-match some while ago? LWD reported on those because of the coincidence of space. I happened to be a by-stander who witnessed some of the […]

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