Bees Can Teach Us A Whole Lot About Managing Risk


Photo: flikr/jaycaboz

Beekeeper and human capital consultant Michael O’Malley has written up a great analogy about risk management and bees in a brilliant column at Harvard Business Review.Honeybees will never be too big to fail because they have a built-in failsafe to prevent that from ever happening. When a hive gets too large, it becomes very inefficient, and some bees split off to form another colony.

Thus, the risk is dispersed. There is never a “super-hive” which could potentially doom all the bees if there’s a disaster.

Within the hives, the bees have three risk mitigation strategies that can be applied to organisations, according to O’Malley:

Decision-making is decentralized — Each bee makes its own decisions based on what it sees around it, so it’s impossible for one authoritative bee to burn everything to the ground. Bees also communicate constantly so that each bee has good information to work with.

Hives are diverse — Bees assemble many options before making a big decision, and then vote independently. The more diversity in the bees’ DNA, the larger the range of options the bees will come up with, since they’re sensitive to different conditions.

Bees always consider the worst-case scenario — Failure is bound to happen, but they go for the “least bad” mistake whenever it’s available. Small errors are better than one massive error, and bees are sure to protect themselves against the big mistake.

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