Dialogue on Leadership: Maria’s Meditation on Starlings

Maria Auxilidora

Maria Auxilidora

Firstly I should open this blog with a declaration of interest; Maria Auxiliadora Moraes Amiden Robinson is my wife. I say this just in case any of you were not previously aware of this, and were wondering why she often features in Transition Consciousness. So why have I decided to interview her as part of my dialogue on leadership series?

Maria is the Director of Education at Symnetics Brasil, and is one of Brazil’s leading experts on strategy, change management and balanced scorecard methodology. She is responsible for running Latin America’s largest and most important annual summit on strategy, the Strategy Execution Summit, and is the co-author of two books on strategy. She is also a very spiritual person, and cares a lot about society.

Last weekend she completed a two year part-time course on human values in education and she is now implementing these teachings on child education into the business sphere. Not only is she very modest about her achievements, despite me telling her that people need to know about her philosophies and teachings, she works so hard she has little time to blog. So I thought I would do a short interview with her to blog on her behalf so to speak. Quote from Maria Maria has recently given a couple of courses on Change Management and the Execution of Business Strategy in Santiago, Chile and São Paulo, Brazil. She showed me her material and told me how she had included in these courses some of my material on chaos, complexity and mental models.

As a part of this she told me that she used a video I love of starlings. This was fascinating to me, and so I asked her exactly how she used this video, and what the reaction from her students was.

If you have not seen the wonderful video, you should watch it now. I could watch this over and over again, and there are many other videos of starlings on youtube equally as well made.

How does Maria use this video in her classes?

I use the video of starlings in my lectures on change management because the vision of them flying together, in great harmony, without a central control inspires us to think about what an organic organisation could be like. This is why people are now studying the movement of nature, to learn from nature, and to apply this learning to organisations. I normally have the video on when people arrive and sit down. They observe, but at this point they do not know what is happening.

Once everyone is there I ask them to observe the video, the movement of the birds and think what lessons the starlings could teach an organisation. Why are researchers in administration looking to nature to apply the principles behind the behaviour in nature. I have a panel on a wall. All throughout the course they have to write down words which represent what they are thinking about. At each break during the course (typically 2 days) I play the video again.

So what things do people write down? At the beginning of the course normally they do not write anything because they are observing. Normally they begin to write during the first break, words such as harmony, organisation, order and chaos. Order and chaos because although the behaviour seems chaotic of course there is an order there too.

Meditations on Starlings in Spanish

Meditations on Starlings in Spanish

Other observations are no central control, synchronisation, divine. After they put words like this during the course, at the end when we finish the course I read with them the words and I put the video on again, so they observe and we read together the words.

I ask the people who put the words there why did they write them and what is the correspondence with the course and with their organisations. It is very interesting, for example a word such as beauty. Normally we do not think about beauty inside the company, but beauty is very important in order to inspire people, to create environments for the development of ideas, innovation.

Another phrase they put is ‘work in group’. This is something animals do very well and something we have to learn.

What other words struck you as quite amazing?

Divine is very interesting. Smootheness, shared leadership, instinct. This is an interesting word since on the course we discuss other ways of knowing, such as intuition. Surviving is very interesting, since when we are talking about sustainability, we are actually talking about surviving.

Meditations on Starlings in Portuguese

Meditations on Starlings in Portuguese

Many words were similar between Chile and Brazil. Someone put poetry in movement. Another thing very interesting is language. The same language. Nowadays companies must be very agile to be in harmony with markets. But how is it possible to be agile, to be fast if you do not have trust in the company, if people do not know where things are going. This is a very interesting discussion we have.

Starlings are very quick in their movements as each one knows what to do. If we have this kind of knowledge inside the company it would be very nice, since if the market makes this kind of movement or something new happens, everyone knows what the focus of the company, they know what to do. They could self-organise in order to respond to the challenge quickly, like the birds.

Freedom was another interesting discussion as the birds are free to do what they do, they are there by choice. The impression is one of freedom, but in fact they are in an organised movement. So the reflection of the class is that you are free to be there or not there but you are there because there is a meaning.

So this is the other thing; principles and meaning. Principles are what they share in order to make the movement in harmony. They have the same principles, the same values.

Meaning means that they are there because they know that it is important. They are free not to be there, but they want to be there because there is a meaning for them. There is a mission they have to fulfil, a clear purpose. Normally in companies you do not have a clear purpose. You have hidden agendas. People are confused as to what to do, and therefore you have to have someone to tell you, you need bureaucracy, and things are slow as you need to tell people what to do, decisions are slow. If the purpose is in your heart you do your best, many internal campaigns to stimulate people are not necessary.

I am from Dumfries, Scotland and I have taken Maria to see the starlings roost at Gretna Green, one of the UK’s largest grounds for starlings. I asked her to talk about what it meant for her to really experience the starlings as opposed to just watching them on a video.

It’s wonderful as it possible to see them really live and in movement, and you hear the sound of their wings. It is possible to see how they organise, because the groups come little by little, it is not everyone together at the same time. The groups arrive, and then join together, and when the group is large enough, and a small group comes, the new group waits to integrate with the whole. There is a kind of respect, and the timing is very clear when you see it. They do this for around one hour around sunset, and so everybody knows. It’s very crazy. Everybody knows what to do. Nobody drops out.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

One person wrote beauty and divine movement and this is exactly what we feel, the beauty and the intelligence which exists in nature. Unfortunately we are so far from nature that we have forgotten this very strong intelligence which exists. So when you see something like starlings, it is possible to reconnect with this kind of inner intelligence.

Part Two: 

Dialogue on Leadership: Maria Auxiliadora on Goethe the Business Guru

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7 responses to “Dialogue on Leadership: Maria’s Meditation on Starlings

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