Alastair Somerville

Jan 31, 2016

3 min read

Your organisation is flocked

I’ve been interested in trying to find a way of describing the future of work that isn’t completely held within network thinking or some Uber/shared economy ideal.

This article is wondering if one future of employment is shown in the murmuration of starlings.

The startling patterns of starlings flying, looping, flocking without any central coordination is interesting and, possibly useful, when describing what careers and recruitment look like in the future.

Flocking behaviour can be broken into several elements – all of them are about how an individual balances their own intents within a larger group. When discussing employment of people in the future, there seems to be a need for organisations and recruiters to understand a similar behaviour in modern life.

Ideas like Agile and Design Thinking management break apart the corporation into a flexible arrangement of ongoing projects and it is into that melee that staff must be recruited for specific times, in specific places for specific purposes.

This is the flock. The organisation is swooping across the markets seeking opportunities, seeking profits.

The employees are the birds. They must fly in a coordinated way with the flock but they are not solidly connected to it.

Behaviour in a flock

You can read about flocking behaviour in many places. I’m just going to use this simple programming tutorial as it uses clear language that can be used to expand the analogy.

The basic factors are:

  • Agent: A single entity or character.
  • Velocity vector: An agent’s current velocity.
  • Neighborhood: A certain area around the agent, used to look for other agents.
  • Resultant: The vector obtained from the calculations of the rule.

So consider the prospective employee as the agent and that their career is defined by their own intents, the velocity vector, and the people and places they know, the neighbourhood.

How they fly in the flock, work to the needs of the organisation, can be described in three main ways.

Alignment is a behavior that causes a particular agent to line up with the agents close by

Consider how the organisation manages its existing workers and how they can help align a new, needed employee with the flock

Cohesion is a behavior that causes agents to steer towards the “center of mass” – that is, the average position of the agents within a certain radius

Consider how management can create a center of mass that enables the employees to understand what their role and responsibility is within their neighborhood. Remember that this shared space may only be a project not the strategic purpose of the whole organisation. The birds don’t know or care about the whole flock. They see and react to what is around them.

Separation is the behavior that causes an agent to steer away from all of its neighbors

Finally, recognise and plan for the loss of a project employee. Understand what are the factors within the project or the organisation that will lead to an employee to break away, to leave.


Employment is a much more flexible idea for both corporations and employees. To demand loyalty whilst offering insecurity is senseless. Better to recognise the flux and manage it.

The organisation as a flock and employees as free flying birds is one way of thinking about the future of work.

Future of Work Innovation Lab

Trying to understand these questions of What, How and Why is one reason I’m part of the Future of Work Innovation Lab project. Exploring with professionals new ways of thinking about work and employment.

Come along to the next one in London on the 29th February. Come and discuss ideas with people who share your interests in the future success of people and organisations

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

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