Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Learn from the Ants!

There's a lot of things that we can learn from the ants. Here's a trick on productivity coming straight from the ants colony itself - it's called Ant Colony Optimization.

How does a scouting ant tell the rest of her colony that there's food here? She will secrete more pheromones - some kind of ant perfume - along the path that she found the food. When her colony mates passes by and picks up the pheromones, they will follow the trail, find the food, giving more pheromones and attract more ant mates and so on. Over time, you find that the chemical trail will get reinforced and becomes stronger and stronger.

So how does Ant Colony Optimization works? It works on exactly that principle - that which is useful will be ranked higher than those that are less useful, subsequently reinforced through repeated trials and eventually, the more useful 'path' will be discovered simply by the usage frequency. I'll give a few examples of how this can work in your everyday life:

1. Sorting files

We tend to sort files alphabetically or chronologically. We don't have to. Take for example one file filled with notes arranged chronologically. Every time we take out something from that file, we place it right in front of the rest, ignoring the order. After several iterations, what we use most often will be placed right in front of the file, making it more optimized for your usage instead of arranging in other common order (like chronological or alphabetical or subject matter) but ultimately useless arrangement.

This is exactly what the Noguchi Filing system works. When I read that, I was mindblown. It wasn't until I read and watched a lot of ants video on Youtube before I realized that it's derived from nature.

2. Sorting apps in your smart phone

Same theory. Arrange your apps according to the usage. Every time you use the app, arrange it in the forefront. Upon subsequent iterations, you'll find that the most useful apps will be right in front and the least useful app are right behind. Go ahead and delete that once it crosses a certain time threshold.

3. Internet bookmarks

If you're like me, you'll have so many 'useful' bookmarks in my internet browser that it's not always possible to find the stuff you need anymore. Yet you can't bare to delete them in the event that you might need it one day.

Here's where ant colony optimisation comes in too. You just sort the bookmark by arranging the one that you use right in front. Over time, the most useful bookmarks will be ranked right at the top while the least useful one will be at the bottom of the least. Again, you can delete those at the bottom with the knowledge that you seldom use it anyway, so there's no need to miss them.

These are just 3 examples that you can use to simplify your life. Besides micro things like these, ant colony optimisation can also be used to decide the best route for transportation networks like where to build a highway, bus routes etc. Basically when there's so many choices leading from point A to point B with multiple variables involved, ant colony optimisation will be useful.

Think about it.


Createwealth8888 said...

Will Grasshopper learn from Ants?

Bo chap?


Sillyinvestor said...

LOL CW, one of the best pokes you ever gave...

LP, Something opposite work for me.

The Bo chap method.

Do u know I have 12000 unread emails in my inbox.

Whatever a colleague see this, their jaws drop big time.

I told them I never delete a single email since the system get ported to gmail and we have a super big storage space. That is about 4-5 years ago, and when I read the title and think it will not apply to me, I give it a miss.

I told whoever in disbelief that I have been doing that for years but I never missed an important event or instructions, people who diligently read emails miss instructions anyway.

I told them, it goes on to show that how many useless emails we receive, and but interactions with people, u know what is upcoming and if I need details, I will go back to that email. Otherwise, let it go, let it go or if u prefer Beatles, let it be let it be...

Definitely not an ant approach to email organization, or maybe it is???

Richard Ng said...

The internet bookmarking is very true to me, but I usually create sub-folders to store different type of sites to facilitate my retrieval ;-)

la papillion said...

Hi bro8888,

Haha, you have to ask THE grasshopper himself ;)

Actually both should learn from each other. The ant should learn how to relax a little and the grasshopper should learn how to plan like the ants. Maybe all should learn from the squirrel ;)

la papillion said...

Hi sillyinvestor,

I also hve this amt of mails, but I only cleared it this year, so it's now 0 ;) My OCD can't stand that uncleared emails anymore LOL

Thanks for sharing your story ;) I think in organization they like to bcc and cc each other for accountability and paper trail right? Lol, thankfully I don't have this kind of stuff haha

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


"It wasn't until I read and watched a lot of ants video on Youtube before I realized that it's derived from NATURE."

Emphasis in capital mine :)

I'm not going to say anything.
Snigger, snigger.

(I guess some have not attempted what you wrote at the end of the post.)

la papillion said...

Hi Richard,

Heh, I did that too, but still it's too messy :) Ah..good to try something new :)

la papillion said...


Naughty naughty ;) Sometimes not saying anything can mean more than saying something.

It's like someone wearing shades. Because you can't see his eyes, everyone thought that the person is staring at yourself ;)

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


Hee hee.

Let's them figure out if something is derived from NATURE, was that planned or through natural circumstance ;)

When hungry; eat. When tired; rest.

la papillion said...



Teenage Investor said...

Always informative to read your blog!

la papillion said...

Hi TI,

Welcome welcome :)

Rolf Suey said...

Hi LP,

I had the same arrangements for the apps on my phone. Useful ones in front, useless ones behind and eventually deleted!

For arranging email folders or Internet bookmarks, I use numbering in the naming. Eg 01xxx for most important/commonly use folder, follow by 02, 03 so on and so forth...

Anyway I like the info on Ants leaving a "perfume" forming a trail... Thanks


la papillion said...

Hi Rolf,

Hey hey, thanks for sharing how you optimise your stuff too :)

My internet browsers are all in front, in icons only. Those that are saved but I didn't refer to them often enough will be pushed behind, so eventually I also will delete them periodically :)

I already had this practice before I learnt about ants, but now that I did, I have a name to it!