Follow That Feather

Posted by  Daryl Cook —December 6, 2007
Filed in Strategy

A strange recurring pattern involving pigeons seems to have emerged in my life recently.
A pigeon walked into my house the other day after I had left the back door open. It caused a bit of a ruckus when my dog realised what was going on and started chasing it all around the house, bouncing off the furniture and trying to climb the walls to catch it. Relating this incident to a friend a few days later triggered childhood memories of Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines. Anyway, I digress.
Yesterday morning while having coffee with a colleague, we talked about the often inappropriate use of the ‘target’ metaphor so often used in business, and ended up having an interesting discussion about how pigeons find their way home. I’m no expert on pigeons, so intrigued, I decided to do a little research. Here’s what I found:

When reared in a particular loft, a young pigeon can be transported hundreds of miles away and successfully find its way home from the release site. Because it requires the pigeon to pinpoint a specific location, this behavior necessitates more than the compass orientation system of migratory birds. Instead, the pigeon must be able to determine its position relative to the location of the home loft in order to orient itself in the proper direction. In doing so, pigeons use a variety of external cues such as the sun, visual landmarks, olfactory cues, and the earth’s magnetic field. Depending on the weather conditions, where the pigeon was raised, and the nature of the release site, pigeons use a combination of these cues to determine their flight path. [1]

After exploring this in more detail, it seems like this might be a useful alternative metaphor for exploring strategy and objective setting, particularly in the complex and rapidly changing environments in which organisations operate today where linear thinking is mostly inappropriate and ineffective.
1. from a copy of articles published by Cornell University:

About  Daryl Cook


  1. John Tropea says:

    Two days ago ABC had a documentary on pigeons in the war, even spy pigeons…

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