If we look at the state of the art in drone swarms as a mental model, we see lots of interesting features that we can apply to our organizations:
- Drone swarms are much less fragile than single, monolithic vehicles. Although the intention may be for all drones to survive, individual drones failing or being deliberately destroyed does not compromise the mission. The swarm can adapt. It can even learn from the problems of individual drones, and get better, even mid-mission.This characteristic leads to modular, decentralized business design, and the willingness to run experiments that may fail. This is related to the concept of anti-fragility, which LEF is embedding in our 21st Century organization research and will be publishing on shortly.
- Drone swarm intelligence comes from the power to co-ordinate in a decentralized way. All drones know the mission, and the coordination software allows drones to communicate with other drones closest to them to achieve the mission.This model would lead us to put much more effort into achieving effective collaboration within and between organizational units.
- Individual drones take care of their own well-being. Drones seek out mobile charging stations to recharge. In future, they may also seek out 3D printers to repair themselves.This is a metaphor for self-managed teams – managing and leading teams based on outcomes, not their work processes or tools.
- Individual drones can specialize then change their specialization. Drones peel off to deliver their payloads (e.g. missiles, poison, photos, videos, signal jammers) then they can return to reload and/or play another role.This should make us think about the power of teams, and how much ‘team capital’ we destroy when we disband teams.
- Drone swarms are awesomely powerful, but raise lots of questions about ethics and policy. The manual sign-off process required for a military plane to go on a mission is too cumbersome to be workable for drone deployments. The consequence of autonomous swarms going wrong means we need to consider the ethics and legislation around what kinds of mission are acceptable, where the liability rests, etc.
Platform business models, cloud/everything-as-a-service, big data, and internet-of-things sense and control capabilities all raise similar issues, in terms of risk management, the law, and even sometimes ethics. (What happens to the insurance industry if we know exactly how much of a risk everybody and everything is?)
We suggest that you and your leadership teams read about drone swarms, watch some cool videos of them, and then think about the implications of modelling your business along their lines. Using drone swarms as a metaphor may give you some powerful ideas, but more significantly, as we have more real-time sensing, big data and machine intelligence, our businesses might more literally resemble drone swarms.
This post first appeared on Leading Edge Forum in February 2017.
Author: Dave Aron
Dave Aron, based in the UK, is Global Research Director for Leading Edge Forum. In this position, he guides a series of global research initiatives aimed at helping CIOs and other Business/ IT leaders reimagine their organizations and leadership for a tech-driven future.
Dave’s key areas of research include digital business, strategy and new business models. Previously, Dave spent more than 12 years at Gartner, as a Gartner Fellow, focusing on strategy and CIO leadership issues. Dave has more than 30 years’ experience in the IT business and has been writing, speaking and teaching on digital business, IT strategy and other topics around the world for more than a decade.
Dave holds a BSc in Computer Science from Queen Mary College, and an MBA from London Business School.
Dave’s alter ego is Mu, The 21st Century Anti-Strategist, which comprises Dave’s distilled thoughts about what doesn’t make sense as 20th century organizations sleepwalk into the 21st century.