What I learned from angry bees in the Valley of Fire.

It was the tail end of a 26-day camping trip that took us from Texas, to New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Home again. It was at the peak of the 2017 Phoenix heat wave — 117 degrees outside — and we were journeying toward a place known as the Valley of Fire.

I opened the car door at a gas pump 15 miles from camp. The wind blew the door wide — as if it might rip it from its hinges. I stepped out into what felt like a giant hair dryer. I might have looked like Beaker from the muppets if not for my shaved head.

When we finally arrived at our destination, the beautiful red-orange hills were a contrast to the barren landscape. We had our pick of sites, because only fools enter the dessert in those conditions.


It was a 1-night stay. When I awakened the next day, I could hear a buzz outside our small tent camper. I peeled back the drapes and saw a worrying sight. A literal swarm of bees had gathered on and around the water spigot we were hooked to. The slow drip overnight had attracted them during their morning scouting.

Like humans — Bees in the dessert need water.

We needed to check out soon, so I covered myself with what I had available — by long cycling tights and long-sleeved dry-fit shirt, a few bandanas and the nylon gloves my wife uses to empty the toilet. Did I mention that I’m allergic to bees?

Posted signs indicated that it might help to put bowls of water nearby. That didn’t work. But, it did inspire a thought — what would happen if I poured water on the ground near the bees?

Eureka! As I poured the water, the bees descended like a cloud, allowing me time to slowly and carefully wave away the stragglers on the knob as I turned off the water. I unhooked our hose.

Every few moments, I could hear when the bees were running low on water. When water was plentiful, they would calmly and quietly share. You would barely know they were around. As the water was consumed or evaporated, they would bump, fight and climb over one another to lap up water.

I even had a couple of desperate bees land on my forehead to lap droplets of sweat.

It occurs to me that staff at many businesses are not unlike those bees. Organizations often work well together when resources are plentiful.

Then, a company falls on hard times. Revenues decline. Budgets are slashed. Suddenly, you begin to see those once-calm professionals bump, fight and climb over one another for resources.

It’s fascinating. After all, those bees are part of the same swarm. They build and feed the same hive. They serve the same queen.

Scarcity can bring out the worst in us.

It is in those lean moments when culture and vision are needed most. Without clear direction, there is only focus on the water. Without vision, there is only focus on the water. And without a defined culture that sets clear priorities, there is only focus on the water.

The pain in the ask is, how strong is your culture?

Are your values well defined so that confusion or panic is minimized?

Have you built a culture of communication that allows departments to collaborate for ways to find more water, rather than fighting over a limited supply?

Better yet, have you empowered members at all levels to serve as scouts?

Because, another interesting thing becomes evident when you observe bees in the Valley of Fire. As the available water dries up — as the bees realize water will no longer come from that spigot — a few scouts wander off. To a new source. Another spigot down the road. Condensation inside car engines. Perspiring creatures. They innovate.

Lingering around a dry spigot without an understanding of roles and responsibility could prove literally deadly for the bees, and figuratively deadly for a business.

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