Why do peacocks fan their tails? And what is it about the tail that is so attractive to females?
New research into the secrets of the peacock's tail fan has revealed the surprising fact that it isn't the height or colour of the feathery fan that is the key to attracting a mate – that's only of value when a peacock aims to claim a hen's attention amid the high growing vegetation that covers much of the region of India from which the birds originate.
In fact, when the female and male come face to face on open ground, the hen is observed to pay attention only to the lower half of the magnificent fan of feathers. Apparently she is programmed solely to assess the width of the cock's haunches in order to ensure that he is suitably well built for her to choose him as father of her offspring.
You might think that checking evidence so important for the survival of her genes would require her total attention. Yet - as anyone who has ever watched the courtship of these birds will have noticed – far from concentrating on the male, the female is constantly flicking her gaze hither and thither throughout the whole encounter.
'Dizzy bird' though she may appear to be, dizzy she definitely is not! In fact, it is her awareness of what is happening around her at the periphery that enables her to avoid predators who might otherwise get close enough to banish not only her future plans and her very self, but also the male counterpart who, it would seem, is programmed to be totally – and potentially fatally - absorbed in his own flamboyant displaying.
As the lead researcher told the BBC, "if females are not alert and focus completely on a displaying male, they may end up as a tiger's dinner"
So what has this got to do with management? Well, if they want to encourage high performance, organizations would do well to take a leaf out of the peahen's book. Because one of the paradoxes of life that employers have to contend with is that to allow employees to become totally intent on one specific thing for long periods is as counterproductive as allowing them to do nothing at all.
So if one person's task requires total focus, another should act as a 'lookout' trained to avert unforeseen background events or pick up on any unintended consequences emanating from the task itself.
A much more likely scenario, of course, is that once we have been trained to deal with a task, employers leave us all to our own devices. This means that it is up to us as individuals to ensure that the 'feel' of the world around us is allowed to intervene from time to time. Not only will this help to avoid the discomfort of repetitive strain injury, it will also make us more open and communicative and - as with the peacock in the undergrowth - allow us to raise important work related issues from time to time so that colleagues can get to see the whole point of view should they choose to do so.
Those of us prepared to stand proud as a peacock but remain as alert as a peahen will add value with interest to any organization we work for. Most valuable of all, however, will be the interest (in both senses of the word) that such behavior adds to our lives.