Worker Ant Theory

Did you know that viruses are not organisms? The super-simple definition of an organism is an object consisting of a cell (cells) and self-replicating. In other words, viruses are a good counter-example to organisms. I learned it only after the COVID pandemic started, and the above definition is just my fake interpretation, though. The point 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? When I learned this surprising fact, some counter-example came up in my mind. Opposite to viruses, something that is never thought to be but behaves like an organism. It’s an organization, a group of people. As some of you may have already noticed, it is especially about a “teal organization” proposed by Frederic Laloux.

His theory was really an eye-opener to me. A group of people gets to behave like an organism, and 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 (against its name). Even if only hard-worker ants are picked out to make a 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. A swarm of ants functions as one organism rather than a group of individuals.

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 seems to work hard. 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. In order to prepare for a future emergency case, I probably should be 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.