Secrets of the beehive

Management consultant Michael O’Malley took up beekeeping as hobby, but he soon realised that the way hives work can teach us many lessons in business. After studying their behaviour he began to understand that bees perform extremely complex tasks within their communities by working together and achieving goals.

They rely on coordination, efficiency and productivity from many different sets of workers within the hive. In short, the hive is an ever evolving organisation that often behaves in similar ways to successful businesses. Michael O’Malley recently published a book “The Wisdom of Bees” – here are some of his observations. See which ones could apply to you!

Protecting the future

Colonies do not look to maximise return in the short term. If bees find a rich vein of nectar in a given patch of flowers they don’t all rush off to mine it immediately, despite the enticing short term gains.

They also maintain their “R&D” in the form of scout bees always looking further afield for richer pickings. Opposite to most businesses, the worse conditions get, the more they invest in exploring new areas by sending more scouts.

Distributing Authority

It’s a common misconception that the queen bee does all the work and dominates all activities in the hive. In reality she delegates relentlessly, and worker bees make daily decisions based on local stimulus and requirements. The most important decisions are those made by the bees closest to the action who have the best information.

Safeguarding against destruction

Genetically diverse hives are more productive – having “different” bees enables the hive to be more sensitive to a wider range of environmental stimuli and prevents it from responding in unison to a narrow set of similar cues.

The hive can never lose essential functions otherwise it breaks down and will cease to exist. For example too few foragers or too few nurse bees to nurture the young will put the hive’s future in serious jeopardy. If something breaks down the hive has a resource of precocious “cross-trained” bees that can be fast tracked into filling the needed roles quickly.

Bees do make mistakes in that they often over-adjust to outside supply conditions. When building a comb (which is very expensive to manufacture) they under-build when nectar resources are low, but over-build when it is abundant. Interestingly though, they don’t do the opposite: over-build when times are hard or under-build in times of plenty, thus safeguarding the long term prospects of the hive.

Hives are also socially responsible organisations. When pollinating, they replenish the nectar they extract. When harvesting they don’t take all the pollen or nectar from flowers because plants recover faster when they are not completely depleted.

It would appear that everything bees do is geared toward sustaining personal well being and in doing so, the ongoing life of the hive; this is the ethos we strive to achieve at Beehive Research . The Wisdom of Bees is an interesting and entertaining guide for any manager looking to get the most out of his or her organisation . To find out more click here

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