What supermarkets could learn from bees

Posted 8 years ago

With kind permission from the author Bee Wilson, extracts from The Hive:

The leading British entomologist of honeybees, Professor Francis Ratnieks, compares the partitioning of roles in the hie to the efficiency of a modern supermarket. The shoppers, Ratnieks suggests, are the forager bees. The cashiers are the nectar-recieving bees, who hold out their tongues ready to suck up the nectar as it is regurgitated by the returning foragers. For an efficient hive, you need a good balance of foragers and recivers, just as a supermarket needs a good balance of shoppers and cashiers. All too often the human supermarket gets this wrong, resulting in either rows of bored cashiers with no one to serve or, more often, great snaking queues of harased customers all waiting for a single checkout. Yet in the hive, astonishingly, such imbalance is almost unknown. Ratnieks argues that honey-bees are superior to humans in the way they partition tasks because, whereas a supermarket depends on centralized management, the honeybee colony works in a decentralized way, each forager making her own decision about which receiver will et her nectar. If there is a delay in a forager being served by one receiver bee, she will simply go to another; she will not wait, fuming and silently cursing, in a line, as the hapless human shopper does. If there are too few bee receivers, more workers will switch to this task straight away; the problem does not have to be identified by the supermarket manager and blared out over a tannoy. The way that the bees partition their work is `simpler´ than that of humans, concludes Ratnieks. ´And it works

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