A Bug’s Life: What Managers Can Learn From Ants

Rick Wartzman
Rick Wartzman

In his latest column for Forbes online, Drucker Institute Executive Director Rick Wartzman writes about management insights that can be drawn from a new study in the journal Science, which examines how carpenter ants divide their labor.

“The ants perform three distinct functions and typically move from one work group to the next as they age,” Wartzman notes. “The youngest tend to serve as nurses to the queen, with the next oldest acting as cleaners and the elders going out, foraging for food and other resources.”

Peter Drucker, Wartzman says, “would have liked this system”—a “very orderly career ladder . . . that focuses (the ants) on the task at hand, not on what lies ahead.” As Drucker wrote in his 1973 classic Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, “The emphasis should always be on the job itself rather than on the next job.”

Wartzman goes on to write about other lessons that can be learned from the ants, including in the areas of promotions and internal communications.

Finally, Wartzman says, “Drucker would have seen much merit in scrutinizing insects in the first place,” given his belief that managers must find “fresh ideas from areas far beyond their normal fields.”