Ruling the Roost: "Best" Isn't Always Better

It’s been awhile since the last blog post. In the previous installment, we exposed the ways in which behaving crow-like (cooperatively) can ultimately benefit not only the organization, but the individual as well. Cut-throat competition is not an evolutionarily stable strategy and yet many organizations still operate as if hiring all hawks will somehow benefit them in the long run.

If I haven’t yet convinced you that organizations operate most efficiently and competitively under a cooperative, diverse internal model, here’s one more attempt. For this round, we’ll turn to the humble chicken.

Cluck, cluck, hen....

Cluck, cluck, hen....

Like any good business should be, the layer industry (focused on chicken eggs) is always looking to increase its production. Classic animal breeding strategies would suggest that taking hens that were top performers (laying the most eggs) and grouping them together would yield the most eggs per coop. Certainly this is reflective of a lot of hiring practices today – rank candidates, take the “best,” add him/her to the flock and let the magic happen. This business practice of “stack-ranking” simulates a model of Darwinian individual selection (sink or swim/survival of the fittest mentality) that is unhealthy, ruthless, and inefficient.

Just ask the chickens.

In his effort to create a group of “Super-Chickens,” Dr. Muir of Purdue University followed the business logic employed today by most organizations: group the best together. He selected the most prolifically producing hens to place together in a coop, and then bred successive generations from the most productive individual hen.

SUPER CHICKEN! 

SUPER CHICKEN! 

The result?

89% mortality rate of hens.

The best individual egg-layers were the best because, well, they were a bit psychotic. When placed together, the hens were extremely aggressive toward one another, engaging in fatal, cannibalistic pecking. Those that didn’t die were left with serious physical injuries.

Less than "super" featherless flock.

Less than "super" featherless flock.

Turns out, selecting for “the best” individual laying hens, also meant selecting hens that were adept at behaving hawkishly.  Rather than working towards the good of the group, the “super-chickens” only appeared to be the best because they were willing to aggressively suppress other hens from being productive. They came out on top by stepping on others.

When hawks, (or “super-chickens”) are left to rule the roost, it can be a disastrous outcome for everyone in the coop.

The better strategy?

Looking forward to discussing it in the next post.