Flocking and herding humans

Posted by on Jul 8, 2008 in Uncategorized | One Comment

Pic c/o

Great video of Starlings flocking from Rick posted just now. 

Personally, I find the sight of birds flocking, fish shoaling and cattle herding awesome (literally, so)

It’s the rapid change of direction, the scale of the multitude way – a scale way beyond my ability to spot individual agents – the scale of the wave of living creatures moving and twisting and turning in 3D over a wet flat English countryside. Movement with form, fluid form.

Readers of HERD will know that I’ve written about this before – how similar mechanisms are at play in human behaviour (on- and offline) and how the same kinds of algorithms used by Craig to describe flocking behaviour in animals also work (c/o Dirk et al) to describe human behaviour. 

I still find it interesting that we insist that things are otherwise – that e.g. human behaviour arises from other mechanisms (like the Influentials model we’ve been looking at recently) whereas the algorithms used by Craig and Dirk  assume that things spread from emulation rather than influence, from the influenced rather than the influencers…From pull, rather than push (as Alex and I have been suggesting)

Part of the reason for this kind of insistence, I suspect, is that each of us can’t get past the fact that he/she is just one of these agents, seeking to understand the flocking for our own perspective and imagine that all the other agents are just like we are, and do as we (like to think we) do…we all spend far too much time with various means of getting inside individuals’ heads…when we could explain so much of human behaviour and its changes through understanding the underlying mechanisms of the crowd – the large scale interaction of individuals with each other

It’s really hard to see things from the crowd’s perspective (hence the “awesomeness” of the crowd), to deny what our own minds tell us about how things work and to accept that it might be more about “us” and less about me or you. But it does explain how frustratingly unpredictable humans are – how “slippery” consumer behaviour seems...(as Andreas suggested last Thursday)

Try it – if you accept that this is how things work it will change how you approach your work as a manager, a marketer or someone creating things for either of these. 

And what’s more, accepting that things are fluid, that they are unpredictable because they arise from the peer-to-peer interaction of the flock makes it easier to relax, let go and enjoy the journey. As Rick points out, it’s a much more Zen experience of things…

,..which just happens to be true. 

1 Comment

  1. Tom
    July 9, 2008

    Read the piece in the HBR July-Aug 2008 on the Long Tail.
    It’s an analysis of data to explore Blockbuster strategy vs Long Tail strategy.
    Key quote that makes me think of Herd and herds (and that Blockbusters might be here to stay) is: “The patterns that emerge in my research suggest that we won’t soon leave what Anderson calls “the water cooler era”.”
    Would love your take on this article.