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Horse Gaits and Organizational Coordination

 

Think about the marvel of what you see illustrated in this video.  When we humans move, we only move two feet.  The horse coordinates four differently for different speeds.  In a loping right turn, the right front leads, so that the left front provides support in fashion like the skier placing more weight on the downhill ski.  In a loping left turn, the horse must switch leads or fall over.  By itself, the horse naturally coordinates all of these things.

Cognitively, this presents quite a challenge for understanding.  The muscles emphasized at each gait are different.  The timing of movement is different.  One horse may choose to lope at a slow speed while another chooses to trot at a faster pace to achieve the same speed.  Immediate terrain gets factored, while the terrain ahead influences.  Current temperature, heart rate, breathing, other animals, wind, precipitation, balance, the presence of predators, expenditure of anaerobic energy, head position, flexibility, anatomic geometry and health etc. all affect the gait, direction, and hoof placement.  Put a rider on the horse’s back, and you have the makings of a cognitive miracle.  The horse can adjust all this to cutting, roping, jumping, hunting, dragging things, drinking water, grazing, crossing creeks, swimming, etc.

When we try to put people together to accomplish things, we have a long way to go to approximate the level of coordination seen in the movement of animals in their surroundings.

 

Coordination For What?

The word implies meshing two or more actions together to achieve some purpose.  If you think about a baseball team, they put their fielding and throwing skills to work in accomplishing outs.  The double play requires good coordination of their actions.  Putting a football linebacker at the baseball shortstop position doesn’t help much unless the rules allow tackling baserunners.  He’d have to catch grounders with his bare hands and make accurate throws to first base.  Working with the rest of the infield to make double plays would be questionable.

The horse coordinates the thousands of actions necessary to sustain some gait and pace for a purpose.  Once the decision is somehow reached to achieve some goal, then its whole body participates.  A group of people do not instantly and uniformly decide to accomplish some purpose.  Neither does that same group instantly know how to coordinate their various actions.

 

Uncoordinated to Coordinated

In fact, human organizations act more like the new foal.  The newborn foal slides out on the ground or sometimes falls to the ground if the mare is standing.  The umbilical cord is torn at about the same time.  The foal’s first objective is to start breathing.  As it does this, it blows amniotic fluid from its nostrils.  The mare turns to begin licking the foal, and it starts with the head.  If some of the placenta covers the nostrils, this usually removes it.  Breathing established and the mare has licked the foal stem to stern, the next goal for the foal is standing.  Standing on shaky legs, it begins to learn to move its legs to walk.  As it begins to walk, it begins looking for the nipple to nurse.  The mare will step away from the foal, until she is satisfied that it can walk adequately.  Then she begins to help the foal in the search for the nipple.  She encourages the foal by licking its butt.  This excites the foal which will often fall down.  Upon finding the nipple and learning how to successfully get milk from it, the mare continues encouraging, which often causes the foal to lose its grip on the nipple.   Repetition produces a competent foal.

Through all of this the foal is learning to coordinate its various parts.  Within the first hour, the foal stands solidly and can walk, but with a stomach full of colostrum and after the rigors of birthing, it usually rests.  Within days, it can walk, trot, canter and gallop.  At the same time it is learning to coordinate its various parts with respect to the mare; the source of milk and other nurturing.

 

The Learning Organization

Organizations do not learn so fast.  Often because of installed technology, management expects the gallop before learning to walk.  At times they are thrown into survival situations without the coordination skills to cope, eg. Fukushima.  I cannot watch this process without seeing the loop of observe, make sense of the observation, take action based on the sense made.  For the foal, it happens fast.

Actually, every person in every organization learns.  That implies that every organization is a learning organization.  However, the title of Learning Organization usually applies to that certain group of people that are learning how to be more successful in their reason for existence.

Far too many organizations simply learn to survive under their current management expectations, systems and hierarchy.  They are not learning new skills individually or improving the coordination of their actions associated with their various skills.  They are not learning the equivalent of how to walk through a boulder field or gallop around a track without paying a lot of attention to the other horse doing the same thing.

Like the mare, the manager is responsible for what the people of the organization are learning.  They may learn in spite of the manager, they may learn to stay out of his way, or they can learn with his or her help.  Obviously, I advocate helping the organization to learn new things as well as to better coordinate their contributions.

  • Ali Anani

    Jeff- a mind-blowing post. Thanks so much for sharing.

    I suggest you turn this post into a book on complexity. Just reading what you wrote “urrent temperature, heart rate, breathing, other animals, wind, precipitation, balance, the presence of predators, expenditure of anaerobic energy, head position, flexibility, anatomic geometry and health etc. all affect the gait, direction, and hoof placement. Put a rider on the horse’s back, and you have the makings of a cognitive miracle”.

    This is a fantastic example on dealing with ecosystem. You know I feel like watching a horse running. I want to understand more how a horse adapts its speed and change of direction. I could go on and on.
    I wonder Jeff if you could add 2-4 slides on the Colorful Jumps of horses to our joint presentation. That shall be very enriching.

    • COcowboy

      Ali, Of course, I will make an addition.

      Jeff

      • Ali Anani

        Thanks, Jeff. I look forward to receiving your slides.

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