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← Lessons we can learn from ants to change ourselves and our world | Josh Leslie | TEDxWindsor

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Showing Revision 13 created 02/22/2020 by Theresa Ranft.

  1. Six years ago, I walked away
    from my six-figure dream job,
  2. a job that I readily invested
    60-70 hours a week in,
  3. consistently over the course
    of almost five years.
  4. I had my conscious reasons
    for doing so at the time,
  5. but I also had other reasons
    that I couldn't quite articulate.
  6. Nowadays, I would say
    that I had a deep knowing,
  7. and only now do I feel in a position
    where I can explain it.
  8. But first in order to do so,
  9. I need to tell you about a few things
    I've learned in the meantime
  10. about both ants and humans.
  11. So as a social entrepreneur
    and social innovator,
  12. I spend a lot of time thinking
    about co-opetition in the service economy.
  13. In other words, how we can help each other
    thrive more efficiently and effectively.
  14. It's this interest that led me
    to ant research
  15. because ants work together.
  16. And by no stretch of the imagination
    am I a myrmecologist,
  17. which is the type of scientist
    that studies ants,
  18. but I do find their research
    really intriguing and valuable,
  19. and I think that it has vast implications
    for both us and our systems.
  20. So let me drop
    a few heavy ant stats on you.
  21. So, ants have been around
    for a hundred million years,
  22. since the time of the dinosaurs.
  23. Arguably, they are one of the most
    successful species in history,
  24. and for those of you keeping score,
  25. dinosaurs: zero, ants: one,
  26. so they know something about surviving.
  27. Ants actually constitute a quarter
    or more of the animal biomass
  28. on the whole planet,
  29. which given the fact that
    they're a millionth the size of a human
  30. is pretty amazing.
  31. In fact, if you rewind
    the clock just 250 years,
  32. ants and humans
    literally weighed the same,
  33. they counterbalanced us on the planet.
  34. And still today, even though
    we've gotten better at procreating,
  35. that's still largely true.
  36. So while we're having
    environmental impacts
  37. and other sorts of things
    that we might not have intended,
  38. ants are quietly working
    behind the scenes,
  39. repairing forest floors,
    that sort of thing.
  40. Ants can lift between 50 and 200 times
    their own weight
  41. and withstand between
    3,000 and 5,000 times
  42. their own weight in pressure.
  43. But there's three specific lessons
    that I think we can look to ants for
  44. that we can practically
    apply in our own lives.
  45. The first is working together
    to overcome obstacles
  46. and particularly obstacles
    that we can't overcome on our own.
  47. This is a picture of fire ants,
    and before I go any further
  48. anybody who knows fire ants
    or may have been bitten by a fire ant
  49. might say, "Fire ants are jerks!"
  50. And, you know, probably you're right.
  51. But there are 14,000 known species of ants
  52. and many thousands more
    that haven't yet been classified.
  53. Maybe sometimes, but so are some humans,
  54. so don't paint them all
    with the same brush.
  55. (Laughter)
  56. And with that, I will tell you
    what this is a picture of.
  57. This is a fire ant raft
  58. during Hurricane Harvey
    in Pearland, Texas.
  59. As you might expect,
    a flood is pretty threatening for ants,
  60. and if they don't do something,
    they'll obviously drown.
  61. So what they do is they build a raft,
  62. and all the other fire ants
    can pile on top,
  63. and it's sustainable for between
    one and three weeks.
  64. If they tried to individually swim,
  65. they're not going to swim
    for a week or three weeks,
  66. and so by banding together,
    they can survive the flood, literally.
  67. Here's another example
    from a type of army ant.
  68. When these ants encounter
    a chasm that they can't cross,
  69. they form a living bridge with each other,
  70. and the rest of the ants
    can walk over the bridge and back
  71. and accomplish whatever
    they were trying to do
  72. more effectively and efficiently.
  73. In terms of practical applications for us,
  74. I think the problems that we feel
    most powerless to solve
  75. are the ones where this comes into play.
  76. They are systemic, structural problems,
  77. environmental problems,
    political problems,
  78. social problems, economic problems.
  79. And it's only through working together
  80. that we can actually
    do something about those.
  81. The second lesson is on leadership
    and redefining our idea of leadership.
  82. I'm just going to show you a video now
    of an ant known as the longhorn crazy ant.
  83. They are carrying this Cheerio.
  84. Eight or nine of them are carrying
    this Cheerio in a certain direction
  85. and suddenly this one ant zips in
  86. and they start pulling it
    in a different direction.
  87. Obviously, that ant is not as strong
    as the other nine ants put together,
  88. but they're confident and assured,
    and they come in and they know something.
  89. They start pulling
    in that direction with conviction
  90. and the other ants follow them.
  91. This video and the following video
  92. are from Prof. Ofer Feinerman
    at the Weizmann Institute of Science
  93. and his colleagues,
  94. and he has a couple things to say
    in particular about leadership
  95. in the context of this video.
  96. One is, "This leader that comes along,
    she doesn't have to introduce herself,
  97. she doesn't have to be stronger
    than the rest -
  98. she just has to pull
    in the correct direction."
  99. And "As far as we can tell,
  100. the scout is no different
    to the other ants.
  101. No one designates the leader.
  102. She designates herself
  103. because she has current knowledge
    about the correct direction."
  104. I think this lesson is most applicable
  105. to those of you who work or volunteer
  106. in roles that wouldn't traditionally
    be considered leadership positions.
  107. My challenge for you is to think about,
    is there something that you know,
  108. a better way, a more efficient
    or effective path where you can show up,
  109. and just start leading
    in the right direction
  110. and have people follow you?
  111. The third lesson is making sure
    there's enough for everyone.
  112. This is a video of a type of carpenter ant
    and a process called ant trophallaxis.
  113. It's fluorescent food,
    so you can see where the food's going.
  114. Two ants go, and they look for food.
  115. What you'll see is one ant
    finds pretty much all the food,
  116. and the other ant doesn't find
    very much food.
  117. Through this process of trophallaxis
    that you're seeing right here,
  118. they share the food.
  119. Something that you might
    not know about ants
  120. is they actually have two stomachs.
  121. They have their own stomach,
    and they have a social stomach.
  122. The purpose of the social stomach is -
  123. this is not really a typical example -
  124. it would be that only certain ants
    go out and get food,
  125. and other ants are back at their colony,
    raising young, taking care of operations.
  126. So they will bring the food back
    and have enough for everybody
  127. through their social stomach.
  128. In our context, our social stomach
    is our tax system,
  129. where we pay more, or we pay into
  130. to provide for the needs of everyone,
  131. not just ourselves.
  132. And this afternoon, there's going
    to be a really good talk
  133. about universal basic income
  134. as a potential way
    to reform our tax system.
  135. So I will leave it to Floyd
    to talk to you all about that.
  136. The next lesson is about humans
  137. and that humans can also think
    in the ways that ants do.
  138. "Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu"
  139. is a saying from the Xhosa
    language of South Africa,
  140. which essentially means,
  141. "I am because you are,
    and you are because we are."
  142. In other words, no person is an island.
  143. We define ourselves
    in relation to one another
  144. and better ourselves
    through our acts of service
  145. and how we serve one another.
  146. There's a quote.
  147. You may have heard this concept
    under a different term,
  148. which is "ubuntu,"
    which is a lot more widely known.
  149. Audrey Tang says
  150. that ubuntu "implies that everyone
    has different skills and strengths;
  151. people are not isolated,
  152. and through mutual support,
  153. they can help each other
    to complete themselves."
  154. This is the closest human worldview
  155. to what I like to believe ants think
    and how they operate,
  156. which is basically what an ethos means,
  157. and how we, as humans,
  158. could really start embodying more
    of how ants work.
  159. But in order to do that,
    I think it's time for a firmware upgrade.
  160. If you don't know what firmware is,
  161. it's a little bit of software
    that runs on a motherboard like that.
  162. You might be most familiar with it
    from your cell phone.
  163. If you've ever updated your Android
    or iOS phone, done a system update,
  164. it allows you to do,
    express, or build things
  165. that you couldn't do before.
  166. A most practical example
    is about once a year
  167. you do a system update
    and you have new emojis.
  168. (Laughter)
  169. But the firmware upgrade
    that's needed for us
  170. is to do the inner work.
  171. Our firmware -
    I'll move to the next slide -
  172. our firmware is passed down
    over generations, millennia,
  173. and there's a lot of things in there.
  174. The firmware, just to be clear,
  175. is the software that runs
    between our ears.
  176. A lot of the things passed down
  177. are no longer relevant,
    they're not useful.
  178. Let's just say there are a lot
    of bugs in the system -
  179. (Laughter)
  180. pun moderately intended.
  181. The way that we can work on getting
    those bugs out is through inner work,
  182. and that's working on how we think,
    and on our hearts,
  183. and how we perceive the world.
  184. I'm really encouraged
  185. that there are thousands
    of people stepping forward
  186. to help do that work,
  187. because much like the Cheerio,
    we can't lift the heavy rocks ourselves.
  188. And those are heavy rocks
  189. that are revisiting basic programming
    that we don't even think of
  190. that has us operate day in and day out.
  191. But I think, specifically,
    we're in need of a "reoriANTation,"
  192. if you'll allow me that,
  193. to move away from something
    towards something.
  194. What to need to move away from
    is the basic way of thinking of,
  195. how can I get the most value for me,
    or for me and mine right now,
  196. and move towards?
  197. How can I add the most value
    for all of us right now?
  198. So with that said,
    I can now tell you in a better way
  199. why I walked away
    from my six-figure dream job
  200. six years ago.
  201. Essentially, I realized
    I had this deep knowing
  202. that while what I was doing was valuable,
  203. and I was working extremely hard at it,
    I wasn't showing up as my whole self.
  204. I wasn't showing up with all the value
    I could bring to the world.
  205. And this is a question that I have
    really unpacked over the last six years,
  206. which has seen me start and found
    not one, not two,
  207. but three very different businesses.
  208. The best way I could explain that
  209. is that one represents the most value
    I can bring to the world
  210. with the left side of my brain;
  211. one is the most value I can bring
    with the right side of my brain;
  212. and one is the most value
    I can bring with my heart.
  213. And a lot of people don't understand that,
  214. and I'm not necessarily
    looking for them to.
  215. I'm not looking
    for their permission or approval.
  216. I know that what I'm doing is valuable,
  217. and much like the ant with the Cheerio,
  218. I'm just pulling with all my focus
    and energy in that direction,
  219. or in those directions.
  220. My question for you is,
    what are you leaving on the table?
  221. What parts of yourself
    are you not bringing to the world?
  222. How can you add the most value
    for all of us right now?
  223. This is basically doing more
    than you need to do.
  224. So, rather than working
    your nine to five job,
  225. and then playing Candy Crush,
    or binge-watching Netflix,
  226. or scrolling social media for five hours,
  227. or if you're like me,
    maybe more than one of those things,
  228. take some of that time
  229. and devote it to creating value for others
  230. instead of simply consuming the value
    that other people have created.
  231. There's a saying which is,
  232. how we spend our days
    is how we spend our lives.
  233. And just for some context,
  234. assuming that you've got about
    16 hours a day to use
  235. and that you sleep sometimes,
  236. if you spend an hour a day
    on social media for a year,
  237. that's three weeks of your year.
  238. Two hours is one and a half months.
  239. The one thing we can't get is more time.
  240. So I hope that that inspires you to take
    at least 5 minutes or 15 minutes
  241. of one of those hours
  242. and contribute it
    to what I'm talking about.
  243. So there's one other person
    who's talked about "ubuntu,"
  244. and his name's Nelson Mandela -
    you might have heard of him.
  245. And he says, "Ubuntu does not mean
    that people should not enrich themselves.
  246. The question therefore is,
  247. are you going to do so in order
    to enable the community around you
  248. and to enable it to improve?"
  249. I like to believe that he meant
    enrich in the broadest sense:
  250. physically, mentally,
    spiritually, financially.
  251. But there's something missing:
  252. a way to make this practical
  253. and an easy way to remember
    in our daily lives
  254. because ubuntu is not necessarily
    a concept that floats around here.
  255. So bear with me, I'm going
    to go off for a second,
  256. but I promise I'll connect
    the dots in a few slides.
  257. The word that came to mind
    for me is "ante,"
  258. and for anybody that plays poker,
    it comes from there
  259. where each round of the card game,
    everybody has to pay a certain amount.
  260. I think we need
    a new definition of "ante,"
  261. which rather than a small amount of money
    from every player that goes into the pot,
  262. a small amount of value from every human
  263. that has contributed to the world.
  264. Another phrase is "ante up,"
    which means to do one's part,
  265. and that's really what I want
    to leave you with
  266. is to think of what it is to do your part.
  267. To me, that's choosing to do more
    than you absolutely need to do.
  268. So, in other words,
    start doing what you know has value
  269. on top of what the world
    tells you has value,
  270. even if other people
    don't necessarily appreciate it yet.
  271. And a fair question that you might ask is,
  272. "Well, how do I know what that is?"
  273. What I would say is I believe everybody
    has the same deep knowing
  274. and that if you quiet your mind
    and sit with yourself,
  275. there's something inside you,
    a small voice that you can listen to
  276. that will tell you what that is.
  277. And if you don't hear it,
    listen even more intently.
  278. As a hint, if there's something
    that you always wished that you could do,
  279. or known you could do but aren't doing,
  280. go and do some of that.
  281. Just quickly, as a mental hook here,
  282. I was thinking about ants and energy,
  283. and Einstein had E = MC2 for energy,
  284. so I think of "ante" as "ant energy."
  285. And it's not enough
    just to believe in what I'm saying,
  286. but also Gandhi said, "Be the change
    you want to see in the world."
  287. To me, that is about embodying this.
  288. How do you embody ant energy?
  289. And so, we face some
    pretty significant problems today,
  290. ones that are seemingly intractable
  291. and I believe need us to bring
    our full selves to the table.
  292. The "ante" is already being upped
    in the poker chips kind of game.
  293. The world is getting more complex,
    and the problems are getting more complex.
  294. I think it's time for us to up
    the ant energy to match that.
  295. And so the question
    I'm leaving you with is,
  296. how are you going to "ante" up?