The world is an anthill


Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the war in Ukraine, with the ensuing geopolitical tensions, the entire world seems to be balancing on the brink of chaos. Global supply chains are also pretty unbalanced due to a succession of bullwhip and domino effects. On top of this, linear supply chains need to transform into circular ecosystems because of the need for companies to become more sustainable.

Because the world increasingly resembles a chaotic anthill, it might be useful to study these fascinating creatures more closely and learn from them. Ants live in colonies of between several thousand and sometimes millions of individuals. In that respect, they can be likened to purposeful companies or even efficiently organized countries. Ants are actually very good at teamwork thanks to a clear division of roles and communicating well with one another to achieve a common goal.

Besides the queen – the female CEO of the ant colony – there are the workers, soldiers and scouts, among others. Workers are the largest group in the colony and are responsible for collecting food, caring for larvae, and building and maintaining the nest. Some ant species have special soldiers, with larger jaws, for defending the colony. The scouts go out exploring to locate food sources and bring information back to the colony. Ants also have cleaners that keep the nest clean by removing waste and dead organisms.

Long-term planning

Ants find the shortest route by leaving scent trails via pheromones. When an ant finds a food source, it automatically becomes a master ant and fetches other fellow ants. A master ant takes the companions into account, slowing down if the companions lag behind or speeding up if they close the gap. Although ants differ from humans in that they have no consciousness, they exhibit behaviour similar to long-term planning. For instance, they store food in special chambers in the nest for future use, adapt their activities to the changing seasons, and manage the colony size. These measures ensure that the ant colony survives and thrives.

Seen from this perspective, companies can actually learn quite a lot from ants in terms of efficiency, clear division of roles, two-way communication, practical learning methods and great adaptability. And since the chaos in business and global supply chains will continue for some time to come, companies would be smart – with ants in mind – to adapt themselves to the situation.

Martijn Lofvers, Chief Trendwatcher Supply Chain Media