Ant colonies: building complex organizations with minuscule brains and no leaders

Mark W. Moffett*, Simon Garnier, Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Nathan R. Furr, Massimo Warglien, Costanza Sartoris, William Ocasio, Thorbjørn Knudsen, Lars A. Bach, Joachim Offenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Thus far the articles in the series JOD calls the “Organization Zoo” have employed the notion of a “zoo” metaphorically to describe an array of human institutions. Here we take the term literally to consider the design of the most complex organizations in the living world beside those of humans, a favorite of insect zoos around the world: ant colonies. We consider individuality and group identity in the functioning of ant organizations; advantages of a flat organization without hierarchies or leaders; self-organization; direct and indirect communication; job specialization; labor coordination; and the role of errors in innovation. The likely value and limitations of comparing ant and human organizations are briefly examined.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organization Design
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2. Feb 2021

Keywords

  • Ants
  • Colonies
  • Coordination
  • Division of labor
  • Group identity
  • Hierarchies
  • Individuality
  • Leaders
  • Self-organization
  • Stigmergy

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