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You and the Waggle Dance

What’s the most important skill you need to get ahead at work or in business? Curiosity. Really, just be curious: about how things work, about the people you work with, about how to get better, about what is actually going on around you. Let me explain in a more scientific way…

To be successful in an ever-changing environment, whether as an employee or a business owner, you have to adapt… to new ways of working, learning, doing business, communicating, etc. In order to adapt, it is critical that you have mechanisms for obtaining information. You have to actively search for sources of information that will help you grow and develop.

This is where the Waggle Dance comes in… honeybees have a fabulous mechanism to learn about the external world. They have built into their world the Forager. Honeybee foragers are the sensory units of the hives. Their job is to gather information about the location and profitability of forage sites. They then return to the hive and transmit the information to the other honeybees by means of the waggle dance. To keep the hive alive, the system has built in curiosity as a job function. Among the forager bees, most are exploiters of old sources of food. Only 10% of foragers are explorers or scouts looking for new discoveries (Wisdom of the Hive by Thomas Seeley).

Thanks to sociobiologists over the past 50 years or so, we have been able to learn about nature’s built-in efficacy systems. The forager honeybees are a great example of what a system needs to do to stay alive and thrive in an ever-changing environment.

What I tell my kids…
You should spend 10% of your work week to being curious – to explore, to scan your work or business environment, to get a sense of what is happening/changing, so you can adapt to changes coming your way rather than be obliterated by change.

Social media and the internet make it incredibly easy to do this. But it can also be overwhelming; too much info dumping. So get an RSS feed aggregator, like Google Reader or Outlook RSS, comb through sources of information (blogs, websites, twitter) that you find the most informative, select the best to subscribe to and carve out a part of your day getting informed.

PBS did a good show on the waggle dance called Dances with Bees. It really is amazing to see the social physiology of the honey bee.

P.S. Personal use of Facebook doesn’t count.

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