The Ants Have it Figured Out

Murray Pratt Blog, Business Insights, Freight Broker, Trucking Leave a Comment

Ants on a leaf

When I first joined the transportation industry – well, joined a technology company that built trucking software for the industry – I found myself looking at trucks more often. I found myself watching all of the markings on the tractors – tare, gvw, DOT # – etc.

I also found myself watching ants a lot more. Yes, watching ants. I would watch them around our yard….lines moving back and forth. To where, I don’t really know. And for what purpose–not sure either. To be honest I don’t think they really know either but they seem to be really good a following the guy in front them and moving with purpose.

After that, some of you are now thinking that I am like that guy in the Animal House movie – you know the one – the guy with the ‘Angel’ & ‘Devil’ on his shoulder…..but not that scene! It was another scene. It’s the one where the three students are sitting down with their professor – played by Donald Sutherland – the professor who smokes pot and introduces it to the guy I am talking about. He first asks if he is going to go ‘schizoid’. But after some time he settles in – and who could forget this line.

“Okay, that means that our whole solar system could be …like… one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being? That means that one tiny atom in my fingernail …could be one tiny universe (the professor completes the sentence)”

Now, you need to understand that I am not a member of a medical dispensary in Canada, nor do I travel exclusively in Colorado and Washington state when in the US, but I do wonder how ants organize themselves, and sometimes wonder if a greater being looks down on us and thinks we are just a bunch of ants.

But I do think we have a lot to learn from ants. After all, a bunch of scientists feel the same way. They study them to see what learning can be gained to help humans with their issues.

And after reading this article I realize that the way ants work together may represent the future model for the trucking industry

https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140409-the-remarkable-self-organization-of-ants/

I have written before about the ‘Trucking Red Zone’. It’s like the last 20 yards of a football field….the last 20% of capacity in the trucking industry. Trying to solving the excess capacity conundrum in a way that uses free-market principles and avoids a centralized planning approach that would be akin to using a hammer to relieve your headache. Sometimes the damage from the medicine outweighs the benefits of the cure.

The ‘self-organizing principle’ of ants just blew me away.

Here is what they can do. See if you would like to have a trucking company that could do this.

  • Ants self-organize. They all work together and communicate and synchronize activities based on chemicals and signals between one another. No Dispatchers required
  • They can carry two to 3 times their weight. Image the ability of your drivers to load and unload a truck. Less expenditures needed on Swampers and Lumpers.
  • Beyond all that – ants have been known to link together to extend a pathway or link together to float like a raft down the river, with the other ants using their fellow ants as a roadway or a bridge or a ferry. Just think of that. Your trucks would never run into an obstacle. They could band together to create detours, pontoon bridges rivers. Think of the fuel savings alone if you could take a direct route between your pick up and drop off locations – not worry about geographic obstacles.

Looking to move past the obstacles holding your freight business back? Get a demo of Tailwind’s Trucking Software or Fright Broker software.

That conjures up the idea of some new Disney Movie, ‘A Bugs Life’ starring ‘Tow-Mater’ from Cars!

  • They even organized their front hauls and back hauls with a passing lane in the middle! They don’t’ even need painted lines, or a median…or even traffic lights.
  • Heck with their rafting capabilities they wouldn’t even need to worry about the line ups at the Port, the trucks could just band together and float out to the Ocean freighter and get the cargo.

But in all seriousness I gotta think that the secret sauce to the last 20 yards, the last 20 percent in the industry, is the way in which self organizing groups use available and transparent information systems to make more informed and better choices for themselves…which collectively mean that a much better choice is made for all.

While each individual truck (ant) or each company (group of ants) work in their own best interests it’s done in a way where the entire industry Ant Colony is able to thrive and improve its efficiency and performance to the benefit of our economy and our society at large.

Stay tuned! Next time I will blog about my job being paid $2.65/hour working as a theatre usher wearing a light blue blazer during the double feature showing of ‘Up in Smoke’ and the ‘The Warriors’.

Murray Pratt
President & CEO
Tailwind Transportation Software

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