Happy International Darwin Day!

AND's Programme Associate Laura Fuller reflects on what the natural world can teaches us about teamwork and leadership

13 February 2013

(Images credits: The Guardian website and Digital Deconstruction website)

Yesterday we celebrated Darwin Day, an international celebration of science and humanity held on the day on which Charles Darwin was born in 1809. Specifically, it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin — the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection.

It's apt, then, that in our recent conversations the A New Direction team has relied on a number of metaphors from the natural world. Our CEO, Steve Moffitt came back from his recent trip to Harvard talking about "finding our sea turtle".

To our relief, this idea didn't come from his indoctrination into a hippy cult, but from Peggy Sloan, director of North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, where the sea turtles are the most popular attraction.

As visitors feel an emotional connection to the sea turtles and visit in large numbers, it gives the aquarium a 'hook' to encourage philanthropy and bring in funding for conservation and education programmes, as well as continuing to exist. Which begs the question – what is A New Direction's 'sea turtle'?

Today's metaphors were ornithological rather than marine. In our team meeting this morning, Michael Judge, our Programme Associate - Culture, mentioned an idea raised by Sandra Standcliffe, head of education and interpretation at English Heritage, at last week's GEM/AND Conference, about team working. Geese flying in formation tend to rotate leadership – this saves them energy and gets them to where they want to get to faster. You can read Michael's blog about these ideas here.

I was really taken with this concept. The geese share leadership, the leader can rely on the group for support, and the group achieves its goal more easily. And a quick web search revealed another fact that I love – while they fly in formation, the geese continually quack to each other, encouraging each other along the way and keeping the group together. There's a group of geese that regularly fly over my home, and I love to hear them doing this. Let's all be geese more often.

The last few weeks have been particularly busy for A New Direction, with a conference, Schools Forum, Discover Artsmark sessions, Arts Award surgeries all taking place along with the usual day-to-day stuff. At the end of our meeting Steve Moffitt described the organisation as a swan, our final metaphor – serene above the water but the legs are paddling like mad.

I'm not sure what Mr Darwin would make of all this, but a happy Darwin Day to all from A New Direction menagerie!