Swarm Leadership II

You & the ‘Cloud’ or Swarm

Floris Koot
May 18, 2016 · 14 min read

So there we are. (note 2018, Yellow Jackets: it’s happening, see Guardian) We may feel part of a ‘swarm’ or ‘cloud’; a group with no leaders, no legal status or even official memberships. Now to help this cloud get somewhere may take a new kind of attitude of the members. An attitude which is both known (the almost biological sphere of tribal trust and shared purpose among fellows in the cloud) and one that might be quite new to the human condition. One that many call the next shift for the human consciousness. How to connect and support the bigger whole that is there, yet the biological part of us never needed to care about before the last, give or take, 200 years? A bigger whole however, that we are undeniable part of. A bigger whole we may learn to feel.

What can we do to help the Swarm?

We are learning how to self organize change. And the learning is hard. The Arabic spring drowned in blood. Occupy dispersed for, I think, lack of clarity and being a bit old fashioned protest attitude. Part I mentioned also successes like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of Apartheid (no, Nelson Mandela did not do it singlehandedly). Social movements around the globe all become bigger and more globally aware and knowledgable. What can we learn as individuals to help this much needed process? What new skills and attitudes do help the cloud to be beneficial for that bigger whole? What did I learn from my work with self organizing groups on stage?

I this article I’ll just talk about the practicalities. Spiritual awakenings to global consciousness do occur. (If so good for you) But I think they only have meaning when they have Earthly ramifications. Because most of us, most of the time have to just trust the relationships are there and check updates from around the globe to see what’s happening.

The Attitude of a Swarm Leader

Tips and principles to help your swarm grow and be valuable for it.

Your own attitude

1Firstly let go of the idea that you can, or should, exert control. Do not work from control, but from facilitating the energy. Be an example. Be as present as possible and support every bit of energy that contributes to the general purpose. It’s all others who will decide upon your influence. If you don’t see positive echo’s of your actions or being, dare to change your role. Mind you that is totally not the same as shouting louder because everyone seems to overlook your presence. The silent forces often help the most. They clean, care, feed, listen. Acknowledge them. That’s exactly what power seekers don’t do.

2Dare to play different roles. Be idea carrier and see if you are followed. Adjust your ideas with your first followers until it becomes more popular. See all criticism as building material, never as attack. Make your message as attractive, easy and as fun as possible to follow.

3Communicate. Clarity of purpose, honesty of intention and the quality of attention are essential cornerstones to powerful communication. With no laws, little rules, lots of goodwill wearing out as time progresses and little seems achieved, being understood and truthful is essential for progress. You have to share how you truly feel. Just like in therapy: acceptance and awareness are the keys to change.

4If you don’t have an idea about what to do, than follow and support what needs help. It doesn’t have to be your idea. Invite and connect as many people as possible within the dialogue. Create a community out of your environment, where people regard each others as members of the same movement, with the same purpose.

Preparing the attitude of others.

I’ve been working with swarm leadership for a while. I became interested in the phenomenon when I trained improvisation groups. I wondered: Would it be possible to have 30 or more people walk on stage at the same time and have them improvising a show from scratch? What kind of dynamics, tools and personal attention would they need to make it possible? When I discovered it was possible, I applied my findings in theatre, dance, networks, organizations and gaming. I’m still hoping to work with a symphonic orchestra for 2 days to have them play an improvised symphony from scratch without a conductor in front. Call me if you can make it happen!

Walk with me, as we discover how to get your ‘players’ in the right frame of mind. If possible and if (big if) the people are willing training helps. Not only is setting the following principles very helpful. It also helps to create a good mood and lets people be closer and easier with each other. When people start to touch each other more freely (with respect and attentiveness!) that is mostly a good sign.

#1. Your body is a bee.

What actors, dances and facilitators often know better than others is that the mind cannot find its way out. It cannot solve, let alone comprehend, the chaos. And ordering others around without having a clue often makes things worse. But we can learn to listen to what happens with our body. As in a soccer match, were we can feel the spirit of both teams, and through that can make quite good guesses which team will win. So can our body sense and know where and how to act, help, seek clarification.

While we mentally discuss, plan and think our bodies are communicating too. They tell us, where hope is, they tell us, who has an enthusiastic plan and who just wants to be heard. They are listening to the bee dances people make and they can hear which dances are worth following. This listening with the body is trainable. It just takes a different way of listening than we are used to.

Here is the Adaptive Mimicking again (see part I). The players are not only cooperating with their fellow players on the dramatic story level. Participants must be able to sense the undercurrents and strengthen this signal within the context of their role, the situation and or issue.

Flash mobs are beautiful exercises in adaptive mimicking and collective contributing. .

#2. Be more present to contribute

Everywhere people in the world are already practicing an attitude that helps to Swarm even better. In Improvisation Theatre or Theatre Sports. Attitudes that gain new powers and possibilities when applied within Swarms. Use these to grow a very collaborative and festive mood in the swarm:

  • Say Yes! Have an open attitude: forward, participate and contribute with and to what is already there. Ants get more results when they carry a dead beetle together, than when each of them would like to bring in their own prize.
  • Dare to Take a Risk. In a mass contribute what feels true. Be less inclined to bend to peer pressure. Dare to say or do what feels true, even if you don’t know how it will be received. Profile yourself on the net.
  • Let Others Shine. Is about integrity in use of sources, supporting idea carriers, not needing to be original or be the leader. They say if everyone works for himself on stage, you have but one supporter. If everyone works for the others, everyone else is out to let you shine.

Apart from this, for movements and swarms to work we need integrity. Networks need mutual trust and grow because of it. Misuse can lead to a viral downfall, very fast. Also you sometimes don’t have time nor space to practice this literally. Rituals can be designed to practice this attitude, by have steps in it, that each promote one of the previous attitudes. For instance a “Now shout your personal desire in the circle. We all do this at the same time. Ready, 1,2,3!..” may help people saying yes, and take a risk. I mean the whole purpose of a swarm may be a risky endeavor so preparing the mood to face risks can be a good idea.

#3. Ego is ballast, but roles are fine.

In swarms Ego is really an obstacle. The players main focus must be on: what’s going on and what’s needed now? He or she must be fully willing to follow the inner impulse to contribute what is needed. Even if it leads to the death or downfall of your character or, for many players even worse, being a boring part of the choir. It’s not different as a soldier choosing to sacrifice himself (which is completely different than being ordered to do so), or an academic professor sweeping the terrain, because everybody else seems occupied elsewhere. Remember: If you see a job, it’s yours.

Leadership Roles Within the Swarm

The Swarm can learn a lot from musicians playing together. Who takes what role must not be a selfish decision. It is about what is needed. Trust that your inner wisdom will come up with a role, that fits who you are. To me it feels like being part of a symphony orchestra or a pop band. Too much self centered play and the music falls apart. Too much contributing, hiding in the mass and the music becomes repetitive without progress. So sometimes it’s about being less present and at other times to act more on impulse and be very present and contrasting.

There are different roles to play if you take this style of theatre as fundament for swarm leadership. There is the choir, that voices the undercurrents or comments upon the action. In a swarm like Occupy this was the body of protesters. There are leading roles, that happen to play out the human drama, like love, hate and family. In the Swarm these are the faces who stand out, perhaps just because they are interviewed or have a popular blog and we can all identify with. There may be coaching or facilitating roles who nudge the drama towards unfolding and open confrontation. In theatre we want open confrontation; in reality we seek guidance towards situations that may turn events. In both cases it is helping the power of the new paradigm becoming clearly visible or experiential. It’s also the coffee woman asking: “Is everyone fine here?” In prehistoric tribes such women would be seen as cornerstones and peace keepers. Why we don’t is a shame. There may be fools, who intervene when things get boring, clarify what happens to players and audience alike or play sudden extra’s that help the drama forward. Or they may just mirror everyone how things are stuck. These are the artists that give color to the movement, the jokers who make fun of what has not been learned yet and the sudden helpers who appear in times of need.

A different way to look at Swarm Leadership is this example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ The leader may not even be a leader on intent, but just expresses his/her idea. It’s the followers that make it happen. And the maker of the video forgets one role, his own. The role of those making the idea visible to the world. :)

Photoshopped (de)motivational poster for Wikipedia Contributors: don’t be attached!

#4. Tune in to the Collective

In management you think you can control outcomes. You plan for months than then discover the whole plan was based on wrong assumptions. In swarming more energy seems to get lost, that might have been done better by a few planners. Whatever you do, it may not be seen, not, consciously, be heard by the Swarm. Yet whatever you do is part of the Swarm and it is immediately integrated. Whatever you bring in may be transformed or discarded. Resistance is a sign you have been heard! That is Swarming too. If you take rejection or being ignored personal you are not Swarming. Stay focussed on the whole, while doing your bit. Also take up what works for you, discard what doesn’t. That way wrong assumptions are challenged immediately through the diversity of active viewpoints. In the end this can be much faster than management. It’s how free collectives beat businesses with innovation speed.

And when it all works, miracles can happen. It’s like Peter Miller says, one ant may not be intelligent, but the whole swarm can be. I’ve seen some plays that had wonderful creative drama and choreography emerging just through the willingness of the players to help unfold what was present. I’ve seen groups make very sudden changes that emerged from the undercurrents, which both felt as a surprise and as the most logical continuation. When this happens I am very happy, for then I know the players are very much in tune with each other.

#5. The Role of Facilitator

As a facilitator in the role-playing games, participants fighting in factions, families and secret societies for the power, I had no interest in who won. I cared about the outcome though; whoever won had to be the most supported one. The participants had to feel the winners deserved it. Most often the winners were the ones who took the most risk and best phrased the general feel of where we all wanted to go. It’s like in the movies, you want the hero to win, if you see he’s committed to a cause you can identify with. Your role as facilitator is thus to seek what feels like a good outcome of meetings: the one that brings most energy to everyone.

Many concrete ways of decision making have been developed, both on and off line since Occupy. Google “decision making tools” with or without “App” and see which might work for your cloud. Facilitating them might be a training in itself.

Facilitators without an agenda, are easy to trust for any party. As leaders we should not be so much focussed on outcomes and results, but on what wants to be heard. We should be less focused on mental models and understanding. I’ve learned to follow the energy in the room. Help to voice what is present, help to listen to what should be listened to and oversee that any voice within that process is respected. I’ve learned to feel when someone who speaks, is he or she speaking for all? Rather than my own plan, I make room for such people. They are the leaders that everyone wants to follow.

Learning to listen to that energy, learning to be present in the chaos and knowing when your own or someone else ego or interests scramble the clarity of what’s going on, should be key education for any swarm facilitator. Sadly this kind of training is not offered at any university or even leadership training. Because at the root of this work lies a bigger knowing, even if it’s unconsciously hidden within: we are all part of the same life on the same planet. We just have to make do with each other. All of us. Anyone who thinks God favors one country over another has not understood the concept of religion, Gaia, or being a being as part of a living system.

Contact Improv dancers at Flow Festival Ibiza in Improv choreography.

#6. Enriching both nest and world.

Anyone loving this read, and turning it into a method to apply according to the steps hasn’t got the message. No. Sorry. Because choosing to be a leader, doesn’t mean you’re followed or accepted. That might work in companies with a bigger boss commanding employees to listen to you or else. And even then. You can try. And it’ll only work when your heart is in the right place. Yes, and your own attitude is congruent with the clouds desire.

Remember that even when you’re exited about this new ‘technology’ most people aren’t ready to embrace it consciously yet. Our biology is build for Ape Rocks, so we look up for guidance and decisions. Yet, this biology is often betraying us. And we don’t want to know the ape within us is still very strong. American voters often claim, “I’ll vote for a strong leader, the one who shows he’s decisive.” Decisiveness does not equal wisdom, tact or even common sense. More often it shows the psychopathy of the Ape Rock leader. Real leadership considers choices and consequences, will balance view points and interests…regardless of the position in the pyramid of power. Real leaders allow the swarm in their head and don’t feel cornered.

We have to understand that even many leaders may have little influence on where we all go next. We all decide together in a complex dance of push and pull, support and resist. Earth’s human population works like a swarm too. The Swarm is already here. She’s already around all of us and is getting stronger every day. We’re all flakes of snow, dancing our own pattern on the wind, trying to impact the snow storm. Most leaders have to mix smartly their own ideas, with what their followers want and or expect. They’ll have to juggle (corporate, military, economic, health) interests and acceptance by the crowd and or the force they can wield to get things done. They may take big decisions, and then the world, throws new data, accidents, resistance, politics and new inventions in their face. It’s the dance that shapes things, not the individual dancers.

Individuals dance on the music of self interest. Even worse. Destructive self interests, like consciously choosing to spray poison that kills bees and may result in cancers is criminal. Hurting nature, hurting others for financial gain is a kind of madness. Teaching others to behave like that, because it’s ‘normal’ is the cause of so many depressions, burn outs, drop outs. That is the pain many suffer from and (wish to) act upon. That pain is what our cloud must find answers to. It is necessary to start now. It might be necessary to practice more civil disobedience in the face of amoral or immoral laws and regulations. For the choice is this: will we stay a plague of plant eating locusts, house wrecking termites or become a swarm of benevolent bees?

Once a small few seemed to have the gift to hear the ‘world song’, the music of all life and its desire to flourish. Yet I think most children hear it too. They cry when trees, animals or people are hurt. They know and it’s for them we need to be the best swarm we can be. We should not unlearn that gift of theirs in our education. We need to take it up and embrace it as ours too. We need to relearn to embrace feeling (yes it might hurt!). And embrace practical methods and new techniques. Green cities are very possible. Replanting forests doable. Return of whales can happen. All work organized to be meaningful and fun can be done. Etc. It can be done when we act. For all that ‘feel’ this: What was once a gift is now an essential need.

Follow that what helps our planet to flourish and supports all movement that do too. You may consider yourself one very small bee. Yet, with each flight you enrich the hive and with each flight you help some flowers to bear fruits or seeds. That is the best win win possible.

Be a bee.

Love from Floris

Click here for more lessons I learned about this, in how this helps to live with complexity.

The Gentle Revolution

Towards a revolution we all want to dance in, for a flourishing planet.

Floris Koot

Written by

Play Engineer. Social Inventor. Gentle Revolutionary. I always seek new possibilities and increase of love, wisdom and play in the world.

The Gentle Revolution

Towards a revolution we all want to dance in, for a flourishing planet.

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