Meshworking Evolutionary Intelligences for the HUMAN HIVE

This blog is the fourth prologue for a keynote at the FreshOutlook Feb. 27, 2012 Building SustainABLE Communities Conference.

An Integral City is a complex adaptive human system that concentrates habitat for humans like a bee hive does for bees.

Let me tell you about why I am attracted to the story of the human hive. I adapted it from the story of the honey bee, told by Howard Bloom — he discovered that the honey bee developed a strategy for individual adaptation, hive innovation and species resilience.

Do you know that the Honey Bee (apis mellifera) is 100 million years old?  That is 10 to 100 times the age of our species. The Honey Bee is also the most advanced species of the branch of the Tree of Life called the invertebrates. We are supposed to be the most advanced species  of the branch called the vertebrates. So with those credentials I wonder if the Honey Bee species has something to teach the human species?

 A bee hive has about 50,000 bees in it – about the size of a small city. And since many if not most of you work to performance goals, do you realize that a honey beehive also has a goal? It must produce a certain amount of honey per year in order to survive — about 40 pounds per year.

So a beehive has a clear sustainability objective for the hive, measured in terms of energy production.

How do bees obtain the raw materials to produce honey? They do this by creating 5 roles within the hive – not the usual suspects most of us are familiar with like drones and queens. No, no these roles have much more purpose and innovation to them:

About 90% of the hive are Conformity Enforcers (CE). Their job is to fly to flower patches and harvest as much nectar and pollen as they can. They use the “waggle dance” form of communication to let sister bees know where to find the resources. When 90% of the hive is doing the same dance – it’s like a Rock & Roll rave — the energy produced attracts a lot of attention and reinforces successful finds.
About 5% of the hive are Diversity Generators (DG). Their job is to fly to different flower beds than the Conformity Enforcer’s. As a result their waggle dance contains different information – more like an Irish Jig than Rock & Roll??. When the Conformity Enforcer’s are at peak performance the Diversity Generator’s are not noticed because their communication is drowned out by the Conformity Enforcer “rave”.
However — a small per cent of the hive are Resource Allocators (RA). Their job  is to reward the performance of Conformity Enforcer and Diversity Generator bees. When Conformity Enforcer performance lags (after depleting the resources in one flower patch), Resource Allocator’s withhold rewards until the point that Conformity Enforcer bees are not only de-energized — they become downright depressed. You can imagine them walking around completely bummed out – the party is over – btw, they can measure depression in bees by measuring their pheromones.  Eventually when the Conformity Enforcer’s energy is lowest, they finally take note of the Diversity Generator Irish Jig (communication) and switch their resourcing flights to new locations.
An even smaller per cent of the hive are Inner Judges (IJ). Some say this is even a hive intelligence. The Inner Judge’s work with Resource Allocator’s to assess and reward performance, so that the hive can achieve its sustainability goals.
The fifth role is a whole hive role – it is created through Inter-group Tournaments (IT). This role actually emerges from the competition between hives within the bee’s eco-region; i.e. the territory they share with other hives competing for the same resources.

These five roles create a resilience strategy that depends on performance and innovation to support the hive and the species. But the bees have taken their sustainability strategy beyond the hive to scale at the regional level of resilience.  Because of course as they gather resources for themselves, they pollinate their eco-region, thereby creating energy renewal for next year. This means the bees have developed a double sustainability loop that supports hive survival AND regenerates the energy resources in their eco-region. The Inter-group tournaments operate at the level of species survival – ensuring any hive that gets an edge in the innovation and evolution curve is the one most likely to survive and pass on its learning.

In terms of sustainability, I wonder when homo sapiens sapiens will innovate sustainability strategies that will embrace performance goals and replenish the resources we use to sustain our human hive and thereby add value to the earth, as effectively as the honey bee?


About the Author:

HI I am the Founder of Integral City Meshworks Inc. and Chief Blogger. Working with cities and eco-regions, I ‘meshwork’ or weave people, purpose, priorities, profits, programs and processes to align contexts, grow capacity and develop strategies for sustainability and resilience in the Integral City. You can read more details about me here


  1. Brian McConnell - Group Epignosis February 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    “Thus in contrast, yet from an Integral perspective, if the definition of sustainability is to mean anything at all, it will embrace not only ‘all quadrants and levels’ (AQAL) of Wilber’s model, but necessarily include relevant lines, streams, intelligences, its levels or stages, its states, and types as well. Taking steps in that direction, Bernard Lietaer’s work certainly exudes an appreciation for the fact that an economy actually functions more as a living ecosystem, with its component members interrelating in accordance with ‘laws of nature’ affecting the exchange of energy and/or information (e.g. bio-
    mass, currency, etc.),than does it a ‘social science’–at least as we cur-
    rently know it (Ulanowicz 45).” excerpt from, “Toward a Sustainable Future” at:

    ‘Meshworking Evolutionary Intelligences’ affords an excellent example of utilizing the bee hive as a working model for envisioning and subsequently designing, sustainable cities. The text I’ve included above, similarly points to a landmark work by Lietaer et al. entitled, “Quantifying sustainability: Resilience, efficiency and the return of information theory” at:

  2. Marilyn Hamilton February 23, 2012 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    Hi Brian
    Thanks for pointing to Bernie Litaer’s work and thinking around economics as related to “laws of nature”. I have been following his recent work with great interest and find some interesting shifts in his thinking to much more ecological contexts. (This is especially since – as he is often called the father of the Euro – and the Euro has met its great challenges in the last few years). Watch for some more of my provocations from the bees and the human equivalent of their “40 lb of honey”. Cheers for now, Marilyn

  3. […] terms of the human hive, these are the core of Conformity Enforcers, resistant to change that will offer resilience to sustain the hive. These folks are unwilling to […]

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