Proﬁt-driven organizations and product development teams all tend to think in terms of speed and efﬁciency — that is, they think linearly. How can we reach our net revenue target as quickly and cost-effectively as possible?
We probably should blame crows (“as the crow ﬂies”) and bees (“beelining it”) for this whole obsession with maximum ROI. “The most direct path between two points is a straight line.” This blasted axiom has been drilled into our heads since grade school.
Ants, too, typically walk (march?) in a straight line. Evidently, when they return to their colony with food, they use a chemical scent called pheromones to communicate so they all follow the same trail, a systematic path.
But the longer we study insects and other life forms, the more we realize that uniformity of instinct and behavior only gets them so far. Their survival may depend on structure and predictability, but they haven’t ﬁgured out something that is the cornerstone to evolution: There’s no systematic path to continuous learning. The path to learning is circuitous.
For the total rewards professional, here’s another idiom that should die a miserable death: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Not only is that an ageist thing to say and presume, it’s a dangerous fallacy. Future enterprise success depends on our ability to retrain our brains and debunk such myths.
Reskilling the workforce is a serious, pressing challenge and affects anyone who is a stakeholder in how their business operates and succeeds. See this month's cover story.
Don’t let people fool you. They crave to learn. You just need to treat them as you want to be treated. Better yet, treat them with the same respect your customers expect.
Some of your employees and colleagues will be quick studies who develop the skills to become trainers. Others will gladly play the part of student and learn a new trade, a new function, a new software, anything at all to keep them gainfully employed and part of the team.
Interestingly, there’s another fallacy ﬂying around that needs to end now. Ants aren’t dumb, nor are they mindless, rote little buggers stuck in a chain gang of supply and demand. According to researchers from the University of Bristol, they teach other less-alert comrades where food is located by running in tandem.
This means that some ants will speciﬁcally go out of their way, with a cost of time or energy, to help another individual ant learn. This isn’t imitation; this is formal teaching.
Maybe ants have something to teach us after all. If only we were wise enough to listen.