Learn from the best: murmuration


Whenever I teach systems thinking I start by showing this video. A murmuration of starlings is, to me, the perfect complex adaptive system to learn from. It’s visible against a clear sky, it moves slowly enough for us to be able to feel like pulse of its dynamics, but fast enough for us to be awed by what the birds can do (their reaction times are way off the human scale). I also think it’s great to first learn about systems in a visceral, not technical, way. So I hope you like it. Stop, sit back, revel in the marvels of complexity.


This is also one of those examples that can be simulated using a rather simple set of rules. Great example, and one of the great early 90’s screensavers.


Hi Nochol - yes, after showing that video I get the group to stand in an open space and we make our own murmuration. The rule is: pick two “flying buddies” - any two people in the room (but don’t say who) - and try to make yourself equidistant between them. When I say “go!” the whole group starts to swirl as everyone tries to position themselves as equidistant between two simultaneously moving people, all at the same time…you can add lots of variations but this is the basic game and it prompts good questions and insights.

I’d love to see a screenshot of that 90s screensaver - I cant think of which you mean. I hadn’t discovered systems thinking in the 90s - it wasn’t on the syllabus - so the similarity may well have passed me by.


wiki mentions article + software from 1987, two years before the birth of www