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Bees at work (IX): Honeybees´ democracy by Thomas Seeley

Such a fantastic Friday that unfolds another weekend for our family time.

In our last lesson, we went through the key risks or threats that are setting up our bees in danger of extinction. Today, I would like to dedicate an introduction paragraph to Professor Thomas Seeley, the bee researcher and academic that wrote the book that I have applied as the main reference one for January´s publications. I am sure many of you already know that I studied at Cornell University, as a postgraduate student sponsored by the Fulbright Scholarship program (administered by the American Embassy in El Salvador). Therefore, when I was reading Seeley´s book, my memories took me not just to this university campus which is a precious gem in the world, but also to the surroundings around Ithaca. I enjoyed reading the book “Honeybees´ democracy” very much, and this publication is my appreciation and thankfulness to Seeley´s works and dedication to understanding the life of the bees. As much as him, many other professors and researchers have pursued the bees, and this gratitude article is extended to them.

Tiptop first-rate education, by first-class professors. Even though I spent my days at Cornell between the Engineering quad and the Johnson Graduate School of Management, I really enjoyed living in Upstate New York. So, when reading Seeley´s book, I could relate with the context of the book, the climate, the freezing winter temperatures, and the calm of walking daily from my studio flat to the Campus. Cornell University is one of the eight Ivy League entities of superior prestige in the world. When you read books as “Honeybees’ democracy”, then and only then you can comprehend the worthy carats of superb topnotch value from each academic researcher of brilliant reputation that you get to know up there. I have already mentioned that the real value of a university is not measured in the student’s performance, but in the outstanding quality of the professors. Professors who do not accomplish research, or do not pursue any investigation to publish during their lifetime aren´t ensuring their mission or expected role of their vocation. Sincerely, after experiencing Cornell, I can only admire with respect those who teach me with respect with their words, deeds, and halo. I esteem good professors’ lives when they honor their careers as a daily example of research spirit in action. Not only because they are constantly producing ideas, books, papers, or academic blogs. They are continuously helping and sharing with us to learn beyond the apparent. An excellent professor will help you to discover beyond his or her own scope. And this is what our planet requires at kindergarten, K-12, and universities. What the planet needs with urgency are first-class professors.

A computer or a Smartphone or the internet or an NFT or a bitcoin won´t improve people´s education. It won´t do it. Only excellent professors can do it with the vocation of doing an investigation, exploration, dedication to solve problems, and answer inquiries with arduous and laborious academic research. Top first-rate education, by first-class professors, is only founded and launched in research.    If a professor doesn’t carry out research, how could he or she teach to do it to students?  No one can give what they don’t have.

As of next week, you will see the shift from the bees’ lives to human living. Then, by your own means, you will begin to connect the dots between January´s content and the rest of the saga subjects to come. So let´s begin.

Honeybees’ democracy.

By far, regardless if the bees perform waggle dancing for house-hunting or if they are naturally entitled to meetings for collective decision making. Seeley’s lessons from understanding bees´ behavior are (1):

  1. Compose the decision-making group of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect. It is very hard to cooperate and act in a cohesive unit, when there is no bottom-line rationale of common interests, neither any alignment on the basics. In addition, when there is no fair amount of mutual respect to debate constructively, it is almost impossible to decide for the common good of the group. In the case of the bees, each worker bee in a colony depends on the entire group for survival. The workers have a common need for their colony to thrive. All of them are genetically formed from the mamma queen eggs, they share genes. The workers are indeed relatives to each other, and they cooperate strongly to serve the common good. Moreover, good working relations within bees happen because these insects are known to be respectful of each other’s role. When we extrapolate this feature to humans, it is obvious that decision making is much better when you have genuinely reasonable people, ones who are known to be respectful of others. Also, they have learned to be constructive to give and receive feedback. At the same time they are good at spotting hidden problems and engaging in vigorous debate with respect.
  2. Minimize the leader´s influence on the group´s thinking. Most human groups only operate with a leader. On the contrary the swarm bees choose their new home without a leader input of integrating information from different sources or telling the others what to do. The mamma queen is merely a bystander. The decision making is in the shoulder of the scout bees´ deliberations. During the whole process, the experts of foraging that know what is best for the swarm, are the ones of doing the whole decision-making process. If we apply this lesson to humans, it seems that when the leader refrains from advocating any solutions in the decision-making process, he or she acts as an impartial information seeker, creating an atmosphere of open inquiry that helps the group tap its summed knowledge to assemble a wide range of possible actions.  When leaders act in a non-directive authoritarian way, the leader encourages the airing of doubts and disagreements, fostering free discussion and careful debate that the group will need to evaluate altogether afterward.  In addition, when leaders keep themselves out of the problem solving process, they avoid leading the solution to a premature consensus, since workers, without intention, tend to please their leader.
  3. Seek Diverse solutions to a problem: Despotic authoritarian individuals can vastly be outperformed by a democratic group of experts. A group’s power is built upon the possibility to explore for multiple options, and it can greatly surpass that of a lone individual. This is true if the group´s experts are numerous, diverse, well educated and independent. Many individuals bringing unique experiences to the problem and searching independently for possible solutions, expand the chances that someone will come up with a radically new option, which might be just what is needed.  In the case of the bees, we explored how a swarm sends out hundreds of scout bees to explore for options. Whenever a scout chances upon a possible dwelling place, she scrutinizes it by herself, and if the site is acceptable, she returns to the swarm and freely reports her discovery with a waggle dance.  She places her house option on the table for further consideration. This process typically uncovers from 1 to 20 or even more possible scouts each of them putting on the table, their own chosen place.
  4. Aggregate the group´s knowledge through debate: The house hunting process of the honeybees shows us the waggle-dance to gain support from a pool of scout bees who are waiting to decide. The site that attracts a higher quorum of supporters wins the competition, and build a consensus among the scout bees, to land into one single option. This is a skilled behavior of balance between interdependence and independence among the debating scout bees. “No scout bee, not even one that has encountered a wildly exuberant waggle dance will blindly follow another scout’s opinion by dancing for a site she has not inspected”.  Scout bees are not blindly copying the dances, they always go and confirm if the site is good first. So rather than perform slavish imitations of dancers, the scout bees perform judicious replications of the dancing, only when she is well informed, and only after she has scrutinized the site herself, and has concluded that it truly deserves to be promoted. By evaluating sites independently, the bees invest their attention wisely. Humans can also make good choices within a group when there is an open and respectful space for competition of ideas, in the form of good communication by debating them, listening to what each says, and register their views independently.
  5. Use quorum responses for cohesion, accuracy, and speed. The trick of the bees is to leave the responsibility in the experts, the scout bees who make the quorum responses, and they make sharp changes in their behavior when a threshold umber (quorum) of individuals support one of the alternatives.

In our next chapter, we will continue with the wrap-up of this whole exercise of learning about the bees. Subject number 9 awaits us “The wisdom of bees applied to human societies” then.

Strategic reflection music section:

Why did we pick Halo from Beyoncé in our last post? Regardless of if you like the ballads or the narratives of Beyonce´s trajectory, no one on this earth can´t deny that she has paved a long-term career based on hard work. I got to know Beyonce for the first time when she was still a member of Destiny´s Child. It was 1997 then. And she has not stopped. Year over year, a new song, a new album, tours, concerts, etc. Beyoncé is an example of determination, consistency, tenacity, willpower, and strength of standing with a new and better hit, repeatedly, over and over again. 

Song for today: In the hands of a composer Dario Marianelli. I would like to share three pieces of work from Dario Marianelli. Calmness for your soul. Enjoy!

Thank you for reading to me. See you next Tuesday. Blessings!

Sources of reference used for this publication


Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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