Worker Ant Theory: There’re No Useless Things


Viruses are not organisms

Did you know that viruses are not organisms? The super-simple definition of an organism is a self-replicating object consisting of a cell (cells), while viruses don’t have a cell structure and can’t self replicate. In other words, viruses can be said to be a good counter-example to organisms. As I’ve been writing in a knowing manner, I learned it only after the COVID pandemic started. By the way, the above definition of an organism is just my personal interpretation, though. The point I try to make here is it seems much more difficult to define an organism than we imagine.

Now, can you guess how this story is related to the title of this article: Worker Ant Theory? Hold on a little longer. When I learned this surprising fact (viruses are not organisms), a counter-example came up in my mind. Opposite to viruses, something that is never thought to be an organism but behaves like that. I think it’s an organization, a group of people. As some of you may have already noticed, today’s theme is especially about a “teal organization” proposed by Frederic Laloux.

A group of people can behave like an organism

His theory was really an eye-opener to me. He claims a group of people gets to behave like an organism. That reminded me of the Worker Ant Theory (we finally got to here). A swarm of ants consists of a queen, a few drones, and the majority of worker ants. The theory says worker ants are divided to 20% of hard workers, 60% of normal workers, and 20% of lazy workers. Even if only hard-worker ants are picked out to make another swarm, 20% of them will become lazy soon. This is considered to be a rule to make a swarm resilient by keeping surplus labor for emergency. Like this, a swarm of ants functions as one organism rather than a group of individuals.

Kaizen board with many documents to measure and improve our production.

We may work too hard

According to the Worker Ant Theory, the same thing happens in most companies. Only 20% of people (including me, of course, probably, maybe, hopefully) work hard. What about our company? As far as I can see, all the production staff seem to work hard. For example, there are many KAIZEN boards put on the walls all over the factory. They always measure processing times and have regular meetings for productivity improvement. I gradually get worried about our resilience as an organization. In order to prepare for a future emergency case, we probably should be more lazy.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.