Inter-city tournaments

As I spent  the long weekend at a soccer tournament, I pondered what it means to be at a tournament – for both 11 year olds and for cities.  Immediately to mind is Marilyn Hamilton’s work on Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive.

In her blog, Hamilton writes Howard Bloom’s story of the honey bee, and the roles in the beehive.  There are four roles that form a strategy for individual adaptation, hive innovation and species resilience.  These roles ensure the beehive is adaptable to its surroundings:

  1. Conformity enforcers – 90%.  Find the pollen by doing what the majority of beehive is doing.
  2. Diversity generators – 5%.  Find alternative sources of pollen.
  3. Resource allocators.  Reward successful behaviour of diversity generators and resource allocators by putting resources where the ‘return’ is favourable.
  4. Inner judges.  Work with the resource allocators to ensure the hive meets its sustainability goal of generating 40 pounds of honey per year.  When conformity enforcer bees come back to the hive with less pollen they engage with the new information from diversity generators.
  5. Inter-group Tournaments.  The competition between hives that share territory (their eco-region).

For Hamilton, “the Inter-group tournaments operate at the level of species survival – ensuring any hive that gets an edge in the innovation and evolution curve is the one most likely to survive and pass on its learning.”  Inter-group tournaments advance not just a hive, but the species.

So how does a soccer tournament for 11 year olds fit into this picture?  To begin, let’s contemplate the basic transaction.  A team of 16 kids is learning how to play the game of soccer. They are serious about the game and have joined a club team to play competitively.  They have a coaching staff that is keen to give the kids opportunities to play the game and to play against teams that challenge them.  For the coaches of this team in particular, the tournament is not about winning at this age, but about having time to play – in games, rather than practice – to try out the technical training they receive between games.  In most tournaments, the team gets to expand its horizons.  They get an opportunity to play with unfamiliar teams.  They get a chance to advance their game – technically, physically, mentally – as individuals and as a collective.
They are at the tournament to better themselves.  That may mean winning, it may not.  The purpose of this Inter-group tournament, for this team, is to improve the game for each player and the team.
This is where the city comes in.  Competition between and comparison of our cities is part of a naturally occurring aspect of human life in that it compels us to be the best we can be.  We always have a choice about what the purpose of the “tournament”.  For some cities, it really is about survival in the strictest sense.  For others, it is simply about a learning journey and putting ourselves in situations where we are challenged, for their is no improvement without challenge.
For our cities, if we stop striving to improve, we risk losing our ability to survive at all.  The honeybees and the coaches of 11-year-olds have some insight for us:
  1. Most of us will conform with the behaviour of others around us.
  2. A handful of us will regularly seek out new ways of doing things.
  3. There are people in positions to reward (and withhold reward) our performance.
  4. There are people in positions to assess our performance.
  5. We advance our contributions with competition.

For our life in cities (and elsewhere), this means:

  1. It is natural and appropriate to conform and be part of a team.
  2. It is natural for some of us – but not all of us – to look for new ways of doing things.
  3. There are naturally occurring boundaries on our efforts (referees, coaches, supervisors, parents).
  4. It is appropriate to assess performance related to an identified goal.
  5. We learn about ourselves – and where we need to improve – when we see how we “stack up” against others.

In the end, this little blog is a reminder for me that cities, and the relationships within and between cities, are complex adaptive systems.  As the bees adapt to ensure they create 40 pounds of honey each year while also supporting their habitat that allows them to do so, I wonder what the similar goal is for humans and cities.  The purpose of the tournament over the weekend was not to win the tournament, and this makes a huge difference to the learning opportunity for the players and the team.  A city, on the whole, isn’t out to “win” either.

What performance goals do we set for our cities?  

What efforts to we make to reach those goals?

How will we know when we reach them?


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