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Nicola Marziliano

as I used to be a fan of Weick stories and utilized in many of my articles, I found this topic very interesting.

In my first life (as a professional, not accademic!) I can see both stories of caribou and bee/fly very relevant being the two side of same coin:

1) why companies try to control over the environment they are surrounded and
2) what should be the talent the company has to be equipped to survive in it.

Funny enough, regardless the company is in HiTech or Commodity biz environment, all tend to have same behavioral pattern as Weick describes:

- they seek for confirmation by using all possible best tools to "predict" what is the market, competition, opportunities, changes, trends....and, what are them if not the 21st century version of broken bones??

- they are in a big fad by talking about Talent. What are them made of? Experience, open mind, creativity, knowledge, flexibility, diversity...then, all of them or just narrowed in one? They seek for innovation and hire bees!

All in all, companies shall use best up to date technology to seek the enviroment but should be aware that this is just an approximation of the reality and not "the map of the territory" (another good Weick example). Indeed, by hiring and teaming the company they should need a good mix of bees and flies but if innovation and changes managment are needed, do not hire expensive high-end professional that like bees, drive you by experience: stolid flies are great innovator.

My 2cents.
great post

Dwayne Phillips

See the biblical examples of "casting lots" when making decisions. Similar concept.


Hi Professor Sutton,

Great posting - I totally agree with Hun Boon. There is a great idea here but maybe its being extrapolated outside its tolerance levels.

Success in any given situation may require different proportions of experience and creativity. Of course it is myopic to assume the same proportion for every situation you are in. You have to assess the situation and then decide what mix of the past and new you need.

If I were starting a new company in Silicon Valley, I'd want my mix weighted towards new ideas and less towards experience. If I were getting heart surgery, I don't want to see anyone under 40 in the operating room trying out his/her crazy new ideas on me!

Bob Sutton


Thanks for the cool and insightful comments. And thanks for pointing out that they realize that they are balancing randomness and experience... striking a balance between breaking from past experience and using past experience. On IDEO, I think part of the brilliance of your process is there is such sharp awareness of striking a balance between the virtues of expertise and having "fresh eyes." Combining old and young, people who know too much and know too little, people who have expertise in problems that are different from the one you are trying to solve on the surface, but might hold new answers by analogy. This mindset is one of the precious jewels of the IDEO culture.

John Foster

Hey Bob:
At IDEO we try to practice what we call the "naive mind" when we start a project. Our culture deems a "clean slate" with diverse perspectives as powerful as an expert with deep experience. Often this fresh perspective (cracks in the bone), coupled with talented problem solvers (hunters) and our design process discipline helps us get to innovative outcomes faster than more traditional expert/advisor approaches. I'd also like to point out (to Hun Boon) that one shouldn't assume the Naskapi didn't know they were using a randomized strategy to design their hunts. They might have been using the method as a device to discipline their process.


I thought I was going to read something worth the time to read it here but I am leaving hoping Karl Weick is not being publicly funded in any way. I used to hear stories like this from drunk hippie chicks in college, and I didn't find it particularly valuable then either.

James Douglas Orton

Hello, Bob,

There's another Weick story that I enjoy playing with: Bees placed in a glass jar, the top of which is left open and the the bottom of which is placed against a window, will press toward the light relentlessly until they die, because they have large brains. Houseflies, because they have smaller brains, will follow a random flight pattern and quickly find the opening. (I suspect that this makes bees assholes and flies more likeable because they are more gently attached to their assumptions.)

But . . . if you add in the distinction popularized by Jim Collins between foxes (who know many things) and hedgehogs (who know one thing really, really well), things get more interesting. A bee-hedgehog is rigid, dangerous, tightly coupled, boring, and probably an asshole. A bee-fox is disciplined, but can be reprogrammed from one set of behaviors to another. A fly-hedgehog is lucky now and then because he or she has one worldview but a random set of behaviors that might help it survive. A fly-fox is a very complicated manager who uses disciplined imagination to take advantage of the random behaviors and the multiple worldviews.

The Naskapi story can be a doorway, then, into four very different combinations of stability and flexibility.

Nancy Dixon picked up on your blog, and has a good post from July 1, 2009, on how she is using organizational learning and knowledge management ideas to make sense of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and that's where I need to return now -- thanks for the diversion.


Vivek Patwardhan

Very thought provoking post, enjoyed reading it. it is difficult not to allow past to interfere, and extremely difficult for leaders of successful organisations whose age, experience and success comes in their way. A Guru and the practice of meditation can help.


Hun Boon

Hi Bob,

I thought your point was important but the analogy of the caribou bone wasn't a relevant one.

The caribou bone strategy worked because the "divined" direction is random, preventing the prey from learning any discernible pattern. The Indians didn't know that of course, they thought it was some higher power guiding them to good hunting spots.

Whereas the point you were making is about starting with a fresh perspective, and not letting yourself be constrained by past ways of doing things.

Hun Boon

Rodney Johnson

Bob, there is a great line in the movie "At First Sight." It goes, "I see better now as a blind man than as a sighted man. I discovered we don't see with our eyes. We only see when we are willing to look at the truth about us, life and other people. You don't need eyes to see that."

Does this somehow fit into the matrix you're exploring?

Personally, I find leaders that have a curiosity to explore, a constant desire to learn, and a willingness to be challenged to be too few are far between. However when I've come across them, I've found that they make great leaders and more importantly, make sound decisions.


I enjoyed this post, as I do most of yours. I'm struck again by the theme of balance between two opposing, and perhaps superficially attractive, ideas.

My own particular lens on this one is that this is one of the insights of Aristotle's ethics, that virtue is the "mean" or balance between two opposing ideas.

One of the consequences of the way early Christianity developed, at least for those of us in Christian cultures, is that Christian thinkers such as Augustine "picked" from a quite diverse set of opposing schools and ideas what would become the Christian othodoxy; hence we have neo-Platonic metaphysics (how you fit the Father, Son and Holy Spirit into "one" god). Relevant to this example, we got something very like a Manichaean view of "good" and "right" in which good and evil are two poles, diametrically opposed and always in conflict, as opposed to the Aristotelian one.

The difference between the extremism of Manichaeism and the balance of the Aristotelian view has I believe subtle but profound implications for how we act and behave in business and elsewhere. It's basically the difference between "knowing what's right" and pressing on regardless, and having to be always mindful of how you are acting to avoid straying to any extreme.

Perhaps a tad metaphysical, and I'm not sure I've expressed it in the best way, but I really am intrigued by how many of your examples amount, essentially, to balance over an absolute "right".

John Caddell

Bob, what a great post and very thought-provoking. I have had great success and crushing failure through relying on my experience. In some cases, the "beginner's mind" has proved very useful, but your post has eloquently underlined how the two must be balanced. I think this is useful in any complex situation--where past doesn't indicate future, but ignorance of the past may "doom us to repeat it". Such situations include strategic planning, sales, product development, hiring... it goes on and on.

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