flock of birds LO21868

W.M. Deijmann (winfried@universal.nl)
Tue, 8 Jun 1999 19:54:44 +0200

Relying to LO21846 and LO21823

Leo Minngh wrote in answer to John:
>Dear John, dear LO'ers,
>Thank you John for your contribution. It gave me some new thoughts.
>Probably because your sketch simplified the the complexity of the
>flock-dynamics to the essence: keeping distance.


>I wonder if these rules (attraction by a group, rejection by the
>individuals within the group), has some consequences for human group
>behaviour and organisations in general.
>It has also connections with the digestor of At de Lange (LO21404) and the
>'Crystallography of organisations LO21403). Because flocking is a search
>for order in a group, so the free energy will increase.
>> Maybe that behavior offers another viewpoint on group behavior.
>> Repositioning on the line probably takes more time than repositioning
>> while in flight.

I have developed movement exercises for groups that help to produce answers
to these sort of questions and their analogy to organizational issues.
E.g. "What does it take to get co-workers 'on one line' to make them
implement a change in a certain (production)process?"
Or: "What are the essentials of flock dynamics and how can these
essentials contribute to organizational change?"
Or: "What do people have to do to keep the right distance towards .........?"

Let's focus a bit on 'keeping distance'.

Keeping the right distance is essential for good communication and
'Keeping distance' has a vissible physical component but also a mental
invissible component; let us label this mental invissible component as
attitude. Keeping distance needs an awareness and a sense for 'distance
towards' or for the 'in between'. Most people are unaware of (some of)
their thriving attitudes, because of that it can happen that they, as a
habit, come in too close on somebody or they keep too far away, physically
and/or mentally, without sensing the inner reaction of the other person(s).

Birds do this sensing by nature.
The difference between birds and humans is that humans have the freedom to
choose to do thinks different, while birds are bound to their natural
habits. Humans can develop selfawareness. Once they understand how to be
selfaware in daily situations it will be easier for them to change
behavioural patterns because they sense at an earlier stage the impact of
their behaviour.
Selfawareness is similar to 'being in the here and now' and to 'situational

There are different types of selfawareness. These many different types of
(self)awareness can be exercised in learn-situations. The idea behind my
approach is that if you create an environment where a group learns and
experiences what type of awareness is necessary to keep for instance 'the
proper distance', it will be easier for them to have the same awarenesses
in daily life.

I start an exercise by focussing on the question: "What do people do to
keep distance?"
I let people walk around freely through a room with no specific direction
or goal. After two minutes or so I stop the walking and we reflect on this
part of the exercise by asking: "What did you do to keep distance?" and:
"Why did nobody bumped into someone else?" Among all kind of answers most
of them agree by saying something like: "Because we constantly were keeping
an eye on eachother". That's the first (obvious) essential.

A Golden rule in learning is that all learning starts by making the obvious

Then we go on to the next step. I ask the group to start walking freely
again: backwards! They are not allowed to look backwards.
it is very unusal to walk backwards and we always react with an increased
consciousness and high levels of awareness to the unusual.
In reflection to this part of the exercise I ask: "What did you do this
time to keep distance?" and "What did you feel?"
The answers are diverse but all of them agree that they felt a certain
sensation of anxciety and fear and that they were much more aware of
themselves and their own body. It was very uncomfortable for all of them.
They noticed that they kept much more distance to eachother and used much
more of the available space just to avoid "getting hurt"; all natural
reactions but made explicite by the exercise.

These first two steps has given the material for the third step and
question: "What does each of us have to do to find a situational balance
between 'too far' and 'too close'?"

What was missing in the first two steps of the exercise was a certain
agreement on 'where to walk when'. There was an uncontrolled chaos because
everyone could walk everywhere. In organizations that is different.
Organizations are organized because they have sets of rules etc. where
everybody (implicitely) has agreed with or -in other words- rules 'to get
on one line'.

So I give them a line to walk on.
I choose a geometric figure: triangle, square, pentagon, pentagram,
hexagram, hexagon, circle or lemniscate. I draw lets say a circle on the
flipover and I ask them to visualize the circle in the room as large as
necessary to give all the groupmembers a spot on it.

(Are you still with me??)
Then I invite everyone to take a position on this imagined circle, all
facing the centerpoint of the circle. For all members the circle is now
clearly vissible in the room. Like the birds on the telephoneline everyone
has a certain distance to two other persons, one on the left and one on the
Then I ask the group to turn 90 degrees to the right so everyone faces the
back of a person in front of him and start walking on this circle. After a
couple of rounds the group comes into a kind of flow with a shared beat
like a group of marching soldiers :-). It just happens and sooner or later
somebody starts counting 1,2,3,4 - 1,2,3,4 - etc.
The intriguing question ofcourse is: "Where does this come from?" I
sometimes monitor this beat and it always turnes out to be exact the same
as the heartbeat of anyone in the group. I am still not sure if the
heartbeat follows the steps or the other way around, but there is a
"What makes birds flock and what makes humans come into this groupbeat?

As a fourth step I ask them to walk again but now trying to establish a
continious flow instead of the 1,2,3,4, beat. (like birds flying in the
air). After a while the awareness of flow becomes vissible and they enjoy
the sensation of 'flowing'. Some groups establish relativly high tempo
without crushing eachothers feet :-).

Ocourse I ask: "What did it?"

As a fifth step I ask the group to walk backwards, but this time limited to
the 'line' of the circle. This is very difficult until they discover that
they have to focus on the awareness of 'flow' and 'rythm'. From the instant
anyone in the group senses this flow, the anxciety and fear are transformed
into trust and 'environment'awareness. For the spectator a beautifully
flowing circle is vissible with exact the right distance between each
groupmember. For the group it is a sensation to 'flow' without the need of
a visual control.
It also works the other way around. When groupmembers dare to exchange the
upcomming feelings of anxciety and fear for 'trust and confidence' flow

Trying to find the right beat and the experience of 'flow' is an implicite
search for order and continuity in a group, Once it is found free energy
will increase. Birds can do this by nature, we have to learn it (again).

Unnecessary to say that after these kind of exercises it is easier to
experience 'the right distance' etc. also in daily life.

I hope this contributes to the subject. and I encourage anyone to
experiment with these exercises. I am glad to help with advice, do's and

Winfried Deijmann

Mr. Winfried M. Deijmann - Deijmann & Partners - Zutphen - The Netherlands
Artists, Consultants and Facilitators for Organizational Learning,
Leadership and Action Learning Events
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winfried@universal.nl (W.M. Deijmann)

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