Over dinner one night this week, one of my sons told me he was interested in keeping bees. Funny that we say we “keep” bees. More on that later.
The reason he brought this up, he said, was because he knew I kept bees when I was younger. I did. I love bees. However, they don’t love me. Or more accurately, my body violently rejects being stung by bees (or anything else that has venom).
I love bees because they are so complex in their communal existence, yet so simple as individuals. Their combs are works of art based solidly on geometry and structural physics. The fact that they can fly is amazing. And they communicate with each other before making a group decision about what to do.
Not surprisingly, our minds work in similar ways to how a beehive makes decisions, presenting several options and then suppressing all but one.
We have talked about the “wisdom of the crowd” here at Kimray. That term might mean different things to different people, so let’s define it for ourselves.
Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd helps us get several ideas, options, or strategies on the table quickly. Then we can select the best option by ruling out (i.e., suppressing) all but one. It is not an average or lowest common denominator event, but rather a rapid series of influencing nudges that push the collective toward a final answer. This idea is even being developed into tools we can use.
We would do this naturally unless we are influenced to avoid or ignore the wisdom of the crowd. We should, therefore, be aware of and seek to mitigate those things that influence us away from relying on the group. These include pride, a command-and-control approach, and fear.
Pride: a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing or conduct.
If I need to be able to claim that an accomplishment was primarily due to my effort or intelligence in order to validate my worth, I am much more likely to avoid collaborative situations and rely mostly on my own decisions. Proverbs 11:2 says, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (NLT). If we are humble, we will seek the input and advice of others and benefit from the “wisdom” of the crowd.
Command-and-Control: an approach to leadership that is authoritative in nature and uses a top-down approach; privilege and power are vested in senior management.
The only real reason we would maintain a “top-down” culture is because we are afraid of losing control. Somehow we believe that if we, as leaders, don’t make all the decisions, we are not in control and not really a leader. This is silly. Real leadership is inclusive and serving in nature. As leaders, we should surround ourselves with people who are smarter and better in their areas of expertise than we’ll ever be, and then trust them to do great work.
While talking with his disciples, Jesus contrasted the “rulers of the world” (who are authoritarian) with the way we should be. In Mark 10:42–45 he said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NLT).
Fear: the ultimate culture killer that slows organizations down, causes hesitation, drives stress, and keeps literally millions of individuals from reaching their potential.
People become afraid when they take a risk and are then shut down or punished for it. If people are working at their best, sometimes they will fall down or fail. How we respond to those failures shapes the culture in which we live. If we support our people, celebrate their effort, and highlight what we learned through the process, the team will learn to risk wisely and fail quickly while at the same time valuing good processes.
In contrast, if we retract authority, override people’s input, and tell our people how to do everything, the team will quickly learn they are not trusted and there is no reward for initiative and creativity. Subsequently, they will avoid bold moves of any kind.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story about three servants and their master. Two of the servants invested (at some risk I must believe) and reaped a reward; the third didn’t invest out of fear and was removed from his responsibility.
Fear, control, and foolish pride are not The Kimray Way. Having a culture that rewards humility, values the input of everyone, and is a safe place to live and learn—that is the culture we want at Kimray.
So why do we “keep” bees?
To keep an animal or person is to provide for their physical or financial needs in exchange for something the “keeper” seeks and finds valuable. (Think about a “kept” woman or man like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) The “kept” is not owned or completely controlled, but rather has volitionally decided to stay in the situation.
So it is with bees. We do not own them, nor can we control them. We provide a suitable place for them to build their comb and protect them from harm as best we can. In return, they give us their honey. They can leave at any time (and sometimes do), but mostly they stay as the relationship is mutually beneficial.