Ant Death Circle

AntOn the train to work this morning, a friend told me about a fascinating phenomenon known as the ‘Ant Death Circle’ (also called the ‘Ant Death Spiral’ or ‘Ant Mill’).

What happens is that ants sometimes lose the pheromone track laid down for them to follow, and veer off course. Each ant then follows the ant in front and the group forms a continuously rotating circle. The ants then blindly follow this circular trail until they die of exhaustion.

Pretty depressing stuff huh? Poor ants.

The powerful and emblematic image of the ant death circle made me immediately think of parallels in conventional performance management – the self-perpetuating downward spiral of targets, binary comparisons, internalised peer vs peer competition, and so on. How often do we unquestioningly follow the ‘ant’ in front and do what we’ve always done, for that reason alone? Because it’s the policy. Because it’s how we do things round here. Because the boss says so.

Maybe you’re an ‘ant’ trudging along within the circle, finding it difficult to break away from the norm but wanting to go and look for that pheromone trail. If so, remember time is running out.

Act now before it’s too late.

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About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I have a big problem with numerical targets, unnecessary bureaucracy, and anything else that stops police officers from providing the best possible service. I believe that by adopting a systems approach, policing can be transformed beyond the wildest expectations of many.
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One Response to Ant Death Circle

  1. Dave Hasney says:

    Pretty depressing stuff indeed… Unfortunately, the ‘ADC’ infection is usually compounded by a liberal smattering of ‘DBS’ virus. This highly viral bug, although carried by individuals, has a profound and debilitating effect upon the group of long-suffering ants. The DBS virus attacks the ADC immune system of the ants.
    Many ants are ‘carriers’ of the bug, one which tends to proliferate with increasing seniority. Its symptoms manifest themselves in the following manner; senior ants keep worker ants in the dark and feed them a constant diet of bullshit, with monotonous regularity. Senior ants fail to support their workers, they fail to brief and train them correctly and they also manipulate statistics and use PR sound bite opportunities for personal gain.
    When workers question the raison d’être of these senior ants they’re usually gagged. The worker ants are told; “your highly sought-after place in the pile isn’t totally secure but, as it’s all warm and cozy, you would be well advised to keep quiet and get on with it.”
    Worker ants are manipulated in this manner to evidence the personal worth and self-interested development of senior ants. Oh I nearly forgot; DBS = Dung Beetle Syndrome!

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