What can we learn from birds?
Organizational silos annoy customers and lead to suboptimal business results.
Nothing particularly new about that observation, but it got me thinking and searching for the complete opposite of silos. What sprung to mind came from the natural world, the murmuration of starlings.
Autumn in England, where I live, is one of the most beautiful times of the year. If you are fortunate, you might witness a murmuration of starlings. Often in their millions seemingly swarming, shape-shifting spontaneously as if orchestrated by a single intelligence. Have you ever wondered how they do that in real-time?
I thought it worth a Google. I came across an article in Country Life by Martin Fone, which offered the latest theory by Italian theoretical physicist Giorgi Parisi from the University of Rome. His theory debunked the 1930’s explanation that some magical thought transference was in play. Instead, murmuration could be explained based on similar observations in ferromagnetism when conditions and group dynamics were optimal magnetic particles interconnected perfectly.
It’s all to do with the power of 7.
Based on observations and drawing on his science background, Parisi’s theory was that each bird influenced the behavior of seven of its nearest neighbors. Each in turn similarly influenced seven others, and so on. What’s impressive is that direction changes happen in a split second without any of the millions of birds crashing into one another. It’s a wonder of nature. Imagine if organizations had such synchronicity and the ability to sense, respond and adapt so swiftly.
Well, based on what I saw at the virtual Dreamforce last week, the time for business murmuration is upon us.
Values must come first.
After the warm-up acts and speeches had whipped up the physical crowd to an expectant frenzy, Chair and CEO Marc Benioff reminded us of the power of enduring values behind Salesforce’s phenomenal success. Heading this year towards $26bn+ and aiming to become a $50bn company by the end of 2026, Benioff said its success was grounded on its enduring core values, with the highest priority being trust. The mutually reinforcing values include a focus on customer success, innovation, and equality. More recently, sustainability has been added as a core value. Benioff said that Salesforce was already net-zero and renewable and pledged on the 1t.org to plant 100 million trees directly and through its influence across its ecosystem.
Values and a common purpose are critical when embedded throughout a company’s culture, but employees need the tools to deliver.
Salesforce Customer 360 platform with recently acquired Slack, a leading collaboration platform, and a host of vital technologies provide the enabling platform to help employees deliver on their values.
Vital technologies include:
- data analytics (Tableau)
- AI (Einstein)
- a unified customer data platform (Salesforce CDP)
- API integration platform to connect any data source and application (MuleSoft Anypoint )
- four public cloud offerings (Marketing Cloud, Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and Commerce Cloud)
- All of which are underpinned by rearchitected cloud-native Hyperforce, give companies greater choice where they store their data and workloads – AWS, Azure, and GCloud.
Slack embedded in Salesforce Customer 360 solves the enterprise murmuration challenge.
I was excited by the possibilities that Slack combined with Salesforce Customer 360 and the technologies above bring to the enterprise party.
Slack CEO and founder Stewart Butterfield gave us a compelling vision and philosophy behind the Slack communications and collaboration platform development.
It is hard to believe that Slack has only been around for seven and a half years. It now has over 177,000 paying customers, handles over 300,000 messages per second, and has so far delivered over 1 trillion messages. As Butterfield said, his philosophy is to make people’s work lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.
Communicating via email reinforces organizational silos. On the other hand, Slack enables employees and leaders to communicate one-to-many, supported by workflows that can quickly be developed by anyone, without any special coding. Anyone can set up or subscribe to any topic through ‘channels’ that appear in the user’s workspace. It’s also brilliant as a tool for crisis management, enabling employees across the organization with the relevant expertise to volunteer and swarm around sudden problems. It’s the nearest to murmuration-tech that I have seen.
It can easily be integrated via APIs to common business applications, on-premise or cloud-based. It helps break down silos and enables people across the enterprise to spontaneously collaborate with each other or beyond with customers and suppliers.
Mike McNamara, CIO of Target, the US retailing giant, gave us an insight into the rapid adoption of Slack at the company. Initially, it was used by the IT department, but through word-of-mouth, employees in other departments clamored to use it.
Back to the murmuration theme, to paraphrase Butterfield, a shared and aligned consciousness accelerates movement and progress. ‘Communications is the most fundamental thing we do as humans. Transform how you communicate and you transform every aspect of an organization – that’s the magic’.
To which I would add…of enterprise murmuration. There’s a lot to be said for applying Parisi’s theory to the field of organizational communications and collaboration, creating the conditions and group dynamics for optimal business, employee, and customer outcomes.