• Pablo Fernández

When nature teaches us to collaborate better

This article was originally published by Eve Mennesson.

In her book "La stratégie du poulpe" (Editions Eyrolles), Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly invites us to observe nature to change our behaviors and interactions. And finally access to collective intelligence.

Scientists have been observing nature for a long time in order to propose innovations: let's mention Airbus, which developed an airplane inspired by birds of prey, or researchers from the Alison Butler laboratory (University of Santa Barbara) who designed an extra-adhesive molecule in an aqueous medium by imitating the way a mussel clings to its rock. While there are plenty of examples in technology, no one has yet come up with the idea of using nature to improve human interactions. Until the book "La stratégie du poulpe" that Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly has just published at Éditions Eyrolles.

Communication to coordinate

"Taking inspiration from nature allows us to change our perspective, to find new ideas. And above all to refocus on the essential", explains the author. The book begins by looking at the octopus: a very surprising animal that is able to adapt very easily to its environment but also to stress, that knows how to be creative to face dangers, that uses a completely decentralized communication (the arms are independent of the head which only coordinates the information).

Communication occupies a central place in the book. Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly devotes a large part of the book to the principle of stigmergy: "It is a biological mechanism: a trace left by an initial action stimulates the following action", she explains, giving the example of termites that use stigmergy to build termite mounds. These messages actually allow us to coordinate.

Stigmergy is interesting because it underlines the importance of each person in a company: "It's about using all possible contributions to reach a common goal in co-creation", underlines Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly. It is the animal version of collective intelligence, of the power of the group.


Communication is therefore used to better collaborate: collaboration is a theme also widely addressed in "The Octopus Strategy". "In the living world, competition requires more energy than collaboration; collaboration is therefore done by default and competition is only used as a last resort", reports Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly. This observation can be inspiring for our world: wouldn't we also have more interest in collaborating than in competing?

This collaboration can very well be set up with competitors: it is called coopetition. In her book, Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly recounts the cooperation between dolphins and Cape gannets to capture herring. Human beings don't use these mechanisms very much: we don't talk to our competitors very much," says Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly. Yet, instead of splitting the pot, cooperation allows us to increase it and create value."

Recognition and novelty

To be effective, this collaboration must be based on trust and equity. In her book, Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly gives the example of crows and dogs who, if betrayed, subsequently refuse to cooperate. "These examples are classic in the animal world, but the human brain reacts in the same way: neuroscience shows that we are sensitive to fairness," says Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly, stressing that human beings must be recognized and paid their fair value in order to prevent them from disengaging.

Another important point to avoid disengagement and therefore effective collaboration: avoid fatigue. In her book, Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly talks about monkeys who are fond of peanuts and who, if they are always rewarded with this treat, end up not enjoying it as much. Like the monkey, human beings need novelty to keep them motivated. A novelty that can be accessed by reading Emmanuelle Joseph-Dailly's book.

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