Innovation Management 

New Way to Keep Warm:  Love Those Penguins!

Collaborating Beats Competing 

By Shlomo Maital 


 Emperor Penguins huddling in a fierce blizzard

ABC On-line and BBC World Service both report on an amazing new study of Emperor penguins and how they stay warm in frigid tornado-speed winds.  A team of scientists set up cameras that took pictures of them every 1.3 seconds.  We all know the penguins huddle together to save energy.  But what about the losers on the outside?  Isn’t it “survival of the fittest”?  The weakest get shoved to the outside and don’t survive, thus ensuring that the gene pool sorts itself out on strength and ‘sharp elbows’?  This is how things work in capitalism, right?  That’s how Wall St. works. 

    Well, apparently not.  That’s not how these penguins think.

    Problem is, explains Daniel Zitterbart, from the Univ. of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, “if the huddle is too loose, the penguins freeze. If the huddle is too tight, you can’t move at all.”

    Solution?  Collaborate. 

  “The cameras revealed that every 30 to 60 seconds, a penguin or group of penguins would start to move a little. This sets off a chain reaction, with surrounding penguins moving as well. The movement spreads quickly, much like a wave, Zitterbart was quoted as saying. The wave is nigh-on invisible to the naked eye in real-time, but allows smaller groups to merge into larger huddles. The cameras also revealed that as the wave hit the front of the colony, a few penguins there would work their way to the back of the pack. As a result, the warmth would be shared as the penguins travel through the colony.” 

   Now, here is the major question.  If a group of  relatively dumb Emperor penguins can find an ingenious way to collaborate and keep everyone warm and alive in impossibly frigid conditions – why can we genius human beings not do the same?  

   What about putting a group of the Wall Street maniacs who destroyed the world in 2007-8 out on an Antarctic ice flow and see what their massive brains come up with, in the 30 seconds before their toes and fingers freeze?