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Fast Company magazine article references WSU researcher examining ants' behavior as work model

February 25, 2013

Scientists have started applying lessons from how ants operate to the corporate world: The result--fewer meetings, more time working, and tasks completed much more quickly. Scientists are serious about recruiting ants to improve human collaboration. Wayne State University scientists drafted ant-inspired algorithms to find the optimal balance between the time spent on planning and execution when moving a product from concept to market. Kai Yang, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at Wayne State, used mathematical models of ant's behavior--"non-discrete ant colony optimization" in the scientific lingo--to model creation of a mobile phone product on time with the highest levels of quality. "You need to find the sweet spot of 'right amount of communication, at right time,' and 'good quality' to make the whole work together seamlessly," says Yang by email. Yang and his team applied how information is transferred among ants using long-term pheromone trails (chemical messages) to disparate project teams. The goal: to minimize the hypothetical product development cycle time at the lowest possible cost. "Finding the right balance between 'doing the work' and 'communicating with each other' will achieve wonderful results in job completion time and quality," says Yang.