Bees, Ants, Elephants, and Crops: Systemic Thinking for Innovation

Guest post by John Hunter, founder of CuriousCat.com.

W. Edwards Deming’s ideas provide many ways to improve the performance of our organizations. Reevaluating what is possible with a fresh systemic perspective can provide valuable alternatives.

Often we become too constrained by how things have always been done to think about innovative solutions. Effective innovation is challenging and difficult to achieve but the potential gains are worth the effort.

The Royal Society recently published an article looking at using ants to improve agricultural yields – The effects of ants on pest control: a meta-analysis

Overall, our results corroborate general patterns and hypotheses and bring new insights to the role of ants in biological control. Our meta-analyses show that the effect of ants as biological controls is more pronounced in shaded crops, aligning two major sustainable management practices.

with proper management, ants can be useful pest controls and increase crop yield over time. Some ant species have similar or higher efficacy than pesticides, at lower costs.

Pesticides have provided great value to farmers; and they will continue to do so. However, thinking systemically and exploring options that have often been given less thought recently can provide productive areas to explore for improving performance.

image of woman in front of wire fence with a beehive on it
The Elephants and Bees Project is part of the Save the Elephants’ Human Elephant Coexistence Program, based in Sagalla, Kenya, next to Tsavo National Park.

I love examples of our using natural allies to aid our efforts in agriculture. For example, Beehive Fence Protects Farms from Elephants uses bees’ natural behavior and elephants’ natural desire to avoid bees to create a fence that works to keep elephants out and avoids conflict between elephants and farmers.

Seeking innovative solutions really can result in improvements that are much better than just trying to make incremental improvements in how things are done now. There are certainly many cases where incremental improvements are sensible. But remembering that we are not limited to such solutions is a powerful force. Often a useful step to finding new innovations is to take a broader view of the situation and think systemically.

Once promising innovations are found then use the PDSA cycle to test out if an innovation is actually an improvement and learn how to best adopt that innovation to improve.

Related links: Ants are as effective as pesticidesSeeking Creative Solutions Using an Appreciation for SystemsPigs Instead of Pesticides

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