Have you ever watched ants close up? It’s an interesting study.

A few months ago I watched a group of ants converge on some food scraps in a park. Over the course of several hours they carried all of the scraps away presumably back to their colony. Fascinated by this I set up a few small obstacles (twigs, stones etc) to see how they would react. Without missing a beat, they went around or over them. I placed larger obstacles in their way – same result – they didn’t quit. They didn’t procrastinate. They adapted and overcame. They had a job to do and they were single-minded in doing it.

Subsequently I learnt that the ant knows that all seasons are not equal and gathers food in the warmer months and stockpiles it for the winter when they live underground.  How much do they gather? As much as they possibly can. What is interesting is that an ant has no supervisor, no commander or ruler. No-one instructs, polices or inspects any ant in the colony. Each ant is self-motivated; knows his job and how important it is to the colony. If he fails the future of the colony is in peril. He needs to be entrepreneurial and industrious and operate without a road-map or safety net. He is small and vulnerable but compensates for this by being brave and daring.

The industriousness of ants is reflected in the 2004 discovery of an ant super-colony beneath Melbourne containing millions of ants and measuring approximately 100 kilometres wide. That’s quite an endeavour for a bunch of ants…

So what can we learn from these amazing creatures:

  1. Ants know exactly what their purpose is – that is, to gather food for winter and to contribute to the building of the colony. It is clear and easy to understand. Likewise any business should have a clear, easy to understand vision. A lot of businesses don’t and they consequently lurch from one crisis “or next big thing” to another.
  2. Ants achieve their purpose through persistence, hard work, bravery and by taking personal responsibility. Successful people do the same thing. They are self-reliant and know that discipline, focus and hard work can overcome a lot of barriers.
  3. Ants aren’t flashy or wasteful. If an action doesn’t add to their purpose (see point 1) then they don’t do it. They avoid unnecessary distractions and never get comfortable. They know that winter is coming and they must be prepared for it. This is in sharp contrast to people and business where the natural state they gravitate to is one of comfort and complacency. They get lazy, question less stuff, and forget the lessons they learnt when they started out. They don’t understand that there are times when opportunities are plentiful and other times when they are not. They have a summer only or winter only perspective. They’re in the dreaded “Comfort Zone” and may not even realise it.

Ants are one of the smallest creatures on the planet and yet they achieve a lot. They do this by building for the long term. Their most visible legacy is their anthills. They are virtually indestructible and are largely impervious to storms and fires. They are built to last and are testament to the ant’s foresight in the summer months. Some businesses do the same thing – they build for the long term and are unwavering in the pursuit of their vision. Many don’t however.

In any event, it’s interesting what a strong vision and a committed workforce can achieve, isn’t it? Even if you are only an ant.