Book Review: The Smart Swarm: By Peter Miller

How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done

I just finished Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making and Getting Things Done. The book in my view is something different, but something different, I liked, as its overall message is to makes us better at interacting with others and the environments in an effort to make more effective decisions through individual action in accord with collective execution at solving strategic and tactical problems.

smart swarm

The difference is in, the author studies insects and animals who swarm, flock and herd in their efforts to evolve and survive. “Simply put , a Smart Swarm “ is a group of individuals who respond to one another and to their environment in ways that give them power, as a group, to cope with uncertainty, complexity and change.” The book translates numerous lessons and wisdom and applies these lessons and wisdom to people from all walks personal and professional.

“Seek a diversity of knowledge. Encourage a friendly competition of ideas. Use and effective mechanism to narrow your choices. These are the lessons of a swarms success. They also happen to be the same rules that enable certain groups of people to make smart decisions together from anti-terrorism teams to engineers in aircraft factories through a surprising phenomenon that has become known as the wisdom of the crowds.” 

It took me sometime to read this book. Not because of the writing,  that was great, but instead to help me grasp the ideas which I am still in the process of doing, especially when it comes to utilizing more complex tactics such as swarming which takes a high level of skill, communication and interaction to pull off successfully in a crisis! Individual action and collective power to execute plays a great role utilizing this type of method.

David Ronfeldt co-author of the books Swarming and the Future of Conflict and Networks and Netwars; The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy which expands on the later., The recent article I wrote “Swarming Tactics” How Tactical Judgments and Calculated Risks Factor into Violent Encounters”  Mr. Ronfeldt was kind enough to respond to my article with these insights: This book hits on Mr Ronfeldt insights on swarming intelligence as well .

“An illuminating post. and it’s a delight to spot your interest in and usage of our past writings on swarming. and to see you understand them correctly. Two rival notions of swarming remain deficient in our view: one has evolved around observations about “swarm intelligence” in nature (e.g., birds, bees, ants, as in bonabeau’s early writings). it’s interesting, but it is more about decentralized flocking without any central command and control, rather than coordinated swarming as we understand it. another view has grown around the notion of”network- centric warfare” (not to be confused with our notion of netwar). this view has taken swarming in a high-tech command-and- control direction having mainly to do with uavs, leading to lots of corporate funding. uavs are important, but we’d rather see advances made at the soldiers’ operational level. in any case, these two other schools of thought about swarming keep evolving in our direction.

Individual effort working as one with others is the key especially in dynamic encounters. I believe this book has some great insights we can use.

"Maybe there is a deeper lesson here, instead of trying to keep fine-tuning a system so it will work better and better, maybe what we really ought to be looking for is a rigorous way of saying, ok, that's good enough. Maybe a smart way to face the unpredictable, whether you're running a business or playing a game of checkers, is to look for that balance between strategic goals and random experimentation."

I recommend you check out Smart Swarm.

Stay Oriented!

Fred