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Death Circles

'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.'

Attributed to Einstein but probably wasn't

I'm a fan of illustrative metaphors (I tend to use them a lot in my talks and workshops) so when I heard about army ants getting trapped in 'death loops' the first thing that occurred to me is how some teams and businesses similarly seem to get into their own kind of spiral where they blindly follow what they know without ever breaking out of current thinking. 

Army ants are apparently blind, and navigate by following the pheromone trail of other ants. When the trail accidentally becomes looped, the ants end up going round and round until they eventually die of exhaustion. This is a good metaphor for what can happen when teams continually double down on what they know even beyond the point when it ceases to be useful to do so. They get stuck in their thinking and find it hard to consider new approaches or the relevance of lateral thinking in solving problems. Often, an external perspective outside the team can be really useful in helping to avoid this. But it also requires teams to demonstrate some imagination and creative thinking, and to break out of norms (like always looking at in-sector case studies for example). The lesson is simple – as soon as you think the team is starting to spiral, do something to break open the thinking.

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