On the surface, ants seem like humble creatures. There really isn’t much to them? Right? Well, not quite. They are actually incredible problem-solvers, engineers, and guardians!
Maybe you’ve heard about the building prowess of the ant or are familiar with their skilled farming techniques. If your very much a nerd like me (or have just read a lot of articles here on Ever Widening Circles) you’ll also know about their complex communication systems!
But these are none of the interesting things you will learn about ants in this article. No, we’re talking about how—in very concrete ways—ants are helping us problem solve.
We’ve all heard the tale of that beautiful bond between a farmer and his ants.
Okay, so you may be unfamiliar with this unique arrangement, but on some farms in Asia, weaver ants are taking on the role of builders, pest patrol, and even, in some places, a delectable delicacy!
Weaver ants are notably aggressive insects. Their colonies of up to half a million individuals scour the areas surrounding their nests for food and possible intruders effectively eliminating other insect species.
For this reason, they have been used for nearly 1,700 years as a natural form of pest control. 1 With farmers encouraging colonies to move into their orchards to keep them safe.
Beyond their remarkable prowess as natural defense mechanisms, weaver ants are also incredible builders.
To introduce us to the world of weaver ants, and some of the ways they’ve helped us problem solve for almost two millennia here’s a great piece from BBC Earth.
If you haven’t yet become a fan of BBC Earth, I strongly suggest you take a quiet afternoon or evening to just get lost on their YouTube channel. You’re sure to fall down more than a few rabbit holes (both literally and figuratively).
So, what can these ants teach us about problem-solving?
Yeah, ants are going to teach us a few things!
We’ve just seen how the weaver ant has been helping farmers problem solve for generations. Perhaps you even saw them as great problem-solvers with their nest building techniques. But could these little friends have a lesson to teach us about the problem-solving process as a whole?
I was searching around for some more videos about weaver ants when I stumbled across this remarkable TEDx Talk from Jacob Wilde. While he was off in the field studying these weaver ants he had a question: “Can these ants problem-solve?”
This line of inquiry led him through a thoughtful journey about the nature of problem-solving, creativity, and how we judge the decisions we make on a daily basis.
For anybody out there working on a problem, or even deciding what to wear in the morning, here’s a little ant inspired wisdom from the TEDxQueensU stage!
“There’s a difference between finding an idea and choosing an idea.”
Who knew we could move from learning about weaver ants to the way we judge our decisions!
We are constantly problem-solving. Coming up with creative solutions, dutifully putting in the work to implement them, but as Jacob so rightly points out, when things fail, hardly ever do we asses the process of judgment that goes into the decisions we make.
And why would we? It so often feels like a split second decision. If you have the creative solution and work hard enough to implement it’s sure to succeed… right? Maybe.
I can think of countless times in my own life, where like a dutiful ant, I worked hard on the creative solution I came up with and it failed. Now, I can see that the way I judged making many of those creative decisions was way off the mark. I was solving a solution that didn’t need solving because I hadn’t done the research to judge if I was going in the right direction.
I had misjudged the situation. And knowing that takes a bit of the pressure off.
Now, I’m not usually one for taking a philosophic twist to the natural world (it’s cool enough on its own), but this particular talk reframed the way I look at my personal and business decisions so I just had to share!
So, the next time you’re going through that process of creativity, judgment, and hard work, take a moment to reflect on the wisdom of the ants!