Lessons Lying in Worlds at Our Feet

Might animal societies be worth emulating?
Steve Bornhoft
Photo by Michael Booini

In this edition of 850 Business Magazine, we have poked around the subject of corporate values. My thanks go out to author Denise Lee Yohn for her helpful article about ensuring brand/values consistency and to the panel of students from FSU Panama City who fielded questions about their habits as consumers of products, services and information.

I have from time to time been involved in discussions aimed at arriving at values statements — or vision or mission statements or what have come to be known as diversity/equity/inclusion statements. Many of those meetings lacked genuineness. It was as if coming up with core values was a requirement that had been imposed by an outside authority; the effort, then, was to come up with something that sounded right.

But when honestly arrived at and consistently applied, values statements can serve a business or organization as guideposts. A company contemplating a new product initiative, relationship or acquisition may ask itself whether the action aligns with the values it espouses.

Today, I arrived at the following core values list …

Industriousness: We derive satisfaction and achieve a sense of purpose by working hard in pursuit of ambitious goals.

Loyalty: We benefit as individuals from the combined efforts of all members of our community and in exchange devote ourselves to shared pursuits.     

Perseverance: We meet setbacks with a renewed sense of resolve and a commitment to always building back better.

Cooperation: We demonstrate every day that we are greater than the sum of our parts. With all of our oars in the water and pulling in the same direction, we conquer tall challenges.   

Respect: We value and appreciate the contributions made and roles played by everyone with whom we work.

… and did so not with a particular business in mind. Rather, I wrote it to reflect an ant colony. While people may struggle to steadily live by the values listed, ants seem never to depart from them. Such consistency has brought ants great success. They have been around for some 140 million years, and according to a study published last year by researchers at the University of Hong Kong, there are 20 quadrillion ants on Earth — 2.5 million for every man, woman and child on the planet. Indeed, there seems sometimes to be 5 million fire ants in my backyard, alone.

Farhad Manjoo, writing in The New York Times, noted similarities between ants and humans: “They live in societies, they’ve all got jobs, they endure arduous daily commutes to work,” while also remarking that much of ant life confounds him.

“There’s the abject selflessness, the subsuming of the individual to the collective,” Manjoo wrote. “There’s the absence of any leadership or coordination, their lives dictated by instinct and algorithm, out of which emerges collective intelligence.”

Manjoo cites the late E.O. Wilson, for whom the Biolphilia Center on State 20 near Freeport is named. Wilson, a leading expert on ants in his day, marveled at ant nests that he viewed as “cities to rival anything in the human world.” In the latter stages of his career, he focused on people and the notion of self, concluding that the conscious mind cannot be separated from the neurobiological system of which it is a part.

Nonetheless, we humans operate based on free will more than instinct and present more individual differences than any other species. Those FSU PC students I mentioned prize individuality. Young people arrive in workplaces today with the expectation that job sites will conform to them. The individual demands expression. Consider the young woman who bagged my groceries the other day. She wore a company green shirt and conformed to a dress code calling for black pants, a black belt and black sneakers. But she also wore purple pigtails. Her apron was dotted with pins and her wrists were spotted with tattoos. Tackle hung from her ears.

We live in interesting times. Paranoia strikes deep, the self sounds a beat, divisions are steep and yet we must somehow arrive at a kind of global cooperation the world has never seen if we are to survive ourselves. Can we summon what we need? Can we conquer the challenges that confront us? The ant-swers are blowin’ in the wind.

Value this day, 

Steve Bornhoft

Editor, 850 Business Magazine


Categories: Company Culture, Opinion