Can Generation Flux Learn from Starlings?

The last article I wrote was titled The Blind Spot of Generation Flux. This was written in reaction to Fast Company’s recent article on what Robert Safian has christened Generation Flux and their ability to thrive in our chaotic world:

The Secrets Of Generation Flux
How brilliantly managed chaos sparks success inside Nike, Box, Cisco, Foursquare, Intuit, and more.

Photo: Screenshot from

This was a really great article but nowadays I always try and consider the energy of my words when trying to express what is inside of me. I worry that this article was too critical, since in fact I can highly recommend this article as an example of how our changing mental models of complexity and chaos in the scientific arena are diffusing into the business arena.

I would though like to build on this article with a look at the word chaos, since for me of course there is chaos in the world, but there is also complexity, order and emergence.

Photo Credit: Imgur

If we think about a human heart, this is a pretty complex system. There is a great deal of chaos when we examine at a very low level individual parts. Indeed, if we sample the time intervals between each heart beat we find a chaotic pattern. But at the highest level of this system, we find that the average heart beat is very stable. Some signs of an unhealthy heart are when the time intervals become ordered and stable. This is a sign that the parts of the system are no longer able to make rapid adjustments to any changes in the environment, and is a signal that system failure could ensue.

So here we have a complex system with chaotic interactions demonstrating the emergent property of a stable heartbeat over time.

The other example I would like to look at is starlings and their roosting patterns of flight. I am lucky enough to live (when I am in Scotland) near one of the UK’s largest roosting grounds, Grenta Green. You really need to see these in video as opposed to photos, so here are a couple, the first of which is mine.

This second video is from White Tip Tales

Each year when I am back in Scotland for Christmas I go to Gretna to watch the Starlings. Last year they had moved to a slightly different roosting ground in a hedgerow which in the exact tiny country lane where we were standing. It was phenomenal to be just a few metres away from them when they made their final plunging descent into the hedge where they would spend the night.

In Gretna there can be up to 20 thousand starlings all flying in formation, a breathtaking sight which still to this day defies our human comprehension and understanding. If starlings were truly chaotic then I would suggest that their aerial dance displays would be impossible but they are not.

What can Generation Flux learn from starlings?

Generation Flux in theory refers to anyone of any age with the mindset of being at home in chaos. I had a little exchange on Twitter with @wiseleader who noted that Generation Flux leaders “do appear to be similar to wise leaders – agility, openness, clearing the mind, holding the paradox”.

I would agree with this as so many times in business when I am teaching chaos and complexity theory my students say to me that this is wonderful what they are learning, but their senior management are totally inflexible or open to new insights.

Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder which is his hypothesis he wrote about in his book The Nature Principle.

The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need. Richard Lov

I think what I would like to see in this new Generation Flux is a recognition of an understanding of nature and natural systems. In nature of course we find chaos, but chaos as we have come to understand it from a scientific perspective is a very strange form of chaos which gives rise to order which emerges spontaneously from complex interactions. The chaos we find in nature is not necessarily the same chaos we talk about in our normal lives, where things seem to have no pattern, order or predictability.

What do we attain from actually dwelling and being in nature, as opposed to just discussing it theoretically in the classroom or business school? Louv tells us that:

By tapping into the restorative powers of nature, we can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds.

As well as this, we need to spend time in nature contemplating nature, and being mindful, meditative. When we dwell in the wonders of nature such as starlings, we can ask ourselves questions such as what is the gap between such a fluid organisation such as a flock of starlings, and our own organisations? As is often the case, I feel that it boils down to human values.

Robert Safian really describes this well, in that the new great challenge of Generation Flux is that as we develop new organisations and business models based on chaos, in order to be more agile we have to develop openness and trust. Human Values provide the foundations of a new level of consciousness that will enable us to move forward in this seemingly chaotic world of ours.

The Sathya Sai Education in Human Values framework offers one possible route forward. This is a hugely successful programme developed in India but which is now being implemented in countries around the world, and is aimed at developing human values in school children. The framework has the very simple following human values at its core:

  • Quest and fulfilment of truth
  • Channelling of will and talent through right action
  • Resolution of emotional conflict in order to achieve inner and outer peace
  • Extension and kindness and selfless love to all
  • Respect and realisation of oneness of all living things resulting in nonviolence

Amazing yeah?

My good friend Giles Hutchins was on BBC Radio 4 this morning discussing his new book The Nature of Business. (Giles is on 23 mins in). The interviewer asks him about Darwinian evolution, and that surely business is all about cut-throat competition. Giles answers this point well, and it seems clear to me that he has not spent any time in a bio-diverse region such as a rainforest as I have done myself, living in the rainforest for a few weeks.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Nature in the long term is about sharing spaces and co-operation. Death is a part of the cycle of life of course, but within nature we see patterns and relationships the like of which we are only just beginning to comprehend and which can not be understood by reducing life to just a few DNA molecules. This is the wonder of nature, and if Generation Flux can move well outside of its comfort zone to transcend the current limited mechanistic thinking that still prevails in business today, even within those who discuss chaos, and if we can build our future organisations and societies on human values which reflect those values in nature, then we will know we are living in a truly remarkable new paradigm.

12 responses to “Can Generation Flux Learn from Starlings?

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