Fleas and Bosses: Do You See the Link?

Fleas and Bosses: Do You See the Link? 646 156 The Body Corporate

When I was growing up I thought it would be fantastic to be a CEO; the big chief, the Boss. And it’s a pretty cool job, to be sure. But the part that I thought would be cool just isn’t there. I thought you’d be free to make your own decisions, make your own mistakes, set the direction. Wrong. You still have a boss. It’s called the Board of Directors, headed by The Chairman. And guess what I learned as I climbed the ladder and got closer to the corporate heavens. The Chairman of the Board has a boss too. They’re known as Investors; the guys who put in the money and expect a financial return. And if they’re institutional investors, they too have bosses, because actually they’re not investing their own money but somebody else’s. In theory, there are a few living human beings that may be independent of a higher authority. Oh no, they all answer to the government (at least they should), who answers to the people (at least they should). And so, this line of authority may truly be endless, even circular.

This was one of the foundational insights that drove my hypothesis that organized business is perfectly paralleled in Nature. As a scientist, I had grown up understanding the laws of interconnectivity, and the flow of energy. Now I had found the same principles at work at work! At Body-Corporate, we will revisit these principles often as we look at individual organizational successes and challenges.

There’s a fun nursery rhyme called the Siphonaptera (which kid is going to remember or use that name??). It goes like this:

Big fleas have little fleas,

Upon their backs to bite them,

And little fleas have lesser fleas,

And so, ad infinitum.

The author captured this same natural phenomenon perfectly, only in a different direction. Where I had been gazing skyward to find the most dominant player. The writer was peering towards the horizon and saw no end to the minute irritations present in the life of fleas, or primates ….. or humans. From the biggest galaxy to the smallest molecule, we’re all connected. Actions in one place are carried via the web of life to other, sometimes distant, always connected places.

This learning has two major practical workplace implications for me.

First, it helps us account for “strange” behavior that occurs from time-to-time (haha). A great deal of our organizational conduct is designed to do one of two things: to please a boss or to escape irritations. It helps to realize that bosses have bosses and fleas have fleas. Understanding the real reason somebody asks for something, or refuses to do something is very helpful, although often forgotten in the heat of battle. So next time you’re confronted with an unexpected or undesirable response, look up and down the chain of command, and left and right on the path of irritation to understand the ultimate driver of the decision. And if you can’t see it, ask. These can be powerful, mutually fruitful questions when asked with appropriate diplomacy.

The second realization was that a problem in the system could always be explained by something else taking place within the system itself. So-called systems thinking. You can open any business review or magazine today to hear leaders urging their organizations to innovate. It’s a topic close to my heart, so I always listen when leaders bemoan and explain its absence. Understanding the laws of connectivity, we should always look within the system for the answers. I guarantee that the reasons for lack of innovation are always internal, always within the system and are one or two degrees away from the venue where innovation is allegedly lacking. So, if you’re a leader in one of these systems, look within the system (including yourself, or even your boss) for the source of the problem. Something is punishing, or at least, not rewarding the risk-taking required for innovation to flourish.

I’ve learned much about human social organization from both bosses and fleas. There are many other natural truths at work in our teams, departments and organizations. Stay tuned.

Have fun,



(Roddy Carter is an executive consultant who uses nature to provide analogues for human organizational structure and function. Through the BioSimilar Programs he helps organizations select and learn from a species or environment that closely resembles their own circumstances. This is a fun way to build and implement strategy and to enhance performance. Please reach out through the connect tab at Body-Corporate.org if you’d like to explore a BioSimilar Program in your organization.)

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