My Books

The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life

ISBN 046501884X (hb)

Basic Books (2009)

What do the successes of, Wikipedia, IBM and Novartic AG have in common with the behavior of insects?

What does it take to throw a successful party?

How can we make better decisions in our personal, social and working lives?

You might not guess it, but new lessons from the study of nature suggest that answers to these question lie in a better understanding of swarm intelligence.

The modern science of complexity has revealed how fish, birds, bees, and ants use swarm intelligence to guide group movements and to help the search for food and shelter. Used by humans, swarm intelligence capitalises on the diversity of our families, our groups of friends, our business contacts, and our social acquaintances to help us make better decisions. In The Perfect Swarm, Len Fisher shows how we can use swarm intelligence to start a craze, to work better in committees and get more from our social networks, or even to know when we should change our minds.

The Perfect Swarm

The Perfect Swarm: Review

Dr John Gribbins’ review of The Perfect Swarm, BBC Focus Magazine, December 2009

Fisher’s theme in The Perfect Swarm is ‘The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life.’ He examines the way very simple rules of interaction lead to the self-organisation that makes pretty patterns in a layer of warm liquid, gives a shoal of fish the appearance of having a group intelligence, and explains the behaviour of human crowds.

The “intelligent” fish, for example, are following the simple rules ‘keep your distance’, ‘follow the fish in front’, and ‘keep pace with the fish next to you’. People follow much the same rules, an insight which provides practical solutions to problems such as designing exits at sports stadiums.

There is much more to this delightful book, but my favourite section deals with the kind of group intelligence that operates on the show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? If you have a choice, you’re far better off asking the audience than phoning a friend. From this and other studies, Fisher makes a compelling case that legal justice would be better served if each juror heard the evidence in isolation, and voted guilty or not guilty independently. He certainly convinced me.

This would be my nominee for book of the year, if it wasn’t still only January. Who knows what may turn up in the next 12 months? Whatever it is, though, will find Fisher a hard act to follow.

Dr John Gribbin is the author of Deep Simplicity.

Praise for The Perfect Swarm

“From locusts watching Star Wars to Murphy’s Law of Management, The Perfect Swarm hits all the buttons. This is a wonderful tour through the new mathematics of swarms, flocks, and crowds, and it makes the emerging science of complex systems seem simple. Easy to read and highly informative.”

Ian Stewart

Author of Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities

“There undoubtedly are a lot of interesting ideas emerging about underlying simplicities,  and their implications, within many seemingly complicated systems. Len Fisher’s book is a truly excellent and clearly-written guide to this exciting area.”

Lord Robert M. May

Zoology Department, Oxford University

“It’s a rare pleasure to read a book that builds on great ideas that have come before, pushes concepts forward, and challenges the intellect—while at the same time being eminently accessible. This is just such a book.”

Scott M. Cooper

MIT research affiliate; Co-author of Coolhunting

“The Perfect Swarm does a marvelous job of explaining the network effects that determine our daily life. I highly recommend it to anybody seeking practical solutions to the puzzling complexities of everyday life, and especially to anyone interested in the mathematical and physical underpinnings of swarm intelligence, swarm business, and swarm creativity.”

Peter A. Gloor

Author of Swarm Creativity and Coolhunting

“Len Fisher reveals how the study of animal swarms allows us to better understand our own society. By blending personal stories with a clear presentation of new theoretical ideas he shows why rumors, ideas and information spread so rapidly through groups.”

David Sumpter

Professor of Mathematics, Uppsala University

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