My fellow Americans: Can we add a second bird?

The eagle: our nation’s emblem. It represents so many of the characteristics we Americans hold dear: independence, strength, and freedom. However, a presentation by world famous author and business consultant Don Tapscott at last week’s World Business Forum in New York City made a compelling case that future generations may not identify with the eagle in the same way we do today. At the least, tomorrow’s world should make room for two national birds: the powerful eagle and the lesser known, more ordinary starling.

A starling?? But wait, isn’t that a small bird, a common bird, hardly anything that instills fear and respect from atop mother nature’s food chain? Well, yes. One starling vs. one eagle and that starling is lunch. But starlings have sent eagles and every other bird of prey scurrying away with their talons between their legs.

How does the starling do it? As Tapscott explained, the starling wins in the same way that tomorrow’s strongest global businesses will: they work together. Thousands of starlings will gather in the evening sky and together they’ll form massive clouds of swirling birds, the airborne equivalent of a monstrous school of fish. Together they fly in perfect synchronization with the end result being a flock of birds so large, so impenetrable, that even the most daring birds of prey have no choice but to look elsewhere for their evening meal.

The videos are fascinating and I encourage you to watch them here:

Wow, I watch that video and I’m reminded of what a bad starling I would be! My wife, three kids, and I can hardly stumble through a parking lot without tripping over each other. Imagine how starlings must laugh when they fly over a big city traffic jam.

Clearly we humans have a long way to go before matching the grace of these simple birds. And while today’s uber-connected world gives us every opportunity to leverage collective intelligence and collaborate as a flock of birds, the reality is the newness of technology and the shock of globalization has us learning to crawl before we walk.

I believe that most of us (especially in the U.S.) grew up in a world where working across borders was rarely considered. Where working together for the good of the team was sometimes overshadowed by the pressure to achieve individual success. In other words, soaring like eagles was encouraged while serving one small role for the greater good was not as recognizable.

Eagle or starling? Which are you? Within your own organizations, are you making time to recognize both? Are you giving your global teams opportunities to fly together and synchronize their rhythm?
These swirling birds represent what Tapscott sees as the future of work. The technology is already there for us to collaborate more easily, it’s just we humans who need to learn how to leverage it.

Oh, and as for the starlings and their beautiful flock formations: Scientists have never documented an accident. A slightly more impressive track record than big city traffic formations.