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I wrote last week about IBM and their wanting the elephant to dance (ref Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance by Lou Gerstner). This triggered a week of heightened alertness to business and organizational psychology books with animals as their theme. I have a few in my own library, and assumed that I would come across a bigger number than I did. This was a surprise. Other domains of life use animals all the time. Sports teams have mascots that are often animals. Schools and universities do the same. Military units often adopt animals as icons. We talk about “bull” and “bear” markets on Wall Street. We often use animal names to compliment or criticize – think workhorse, lame duck. We sometimes use animal terminology to denote a style or approach; although I need to research why the odious skunk should be associate with the deliberate innovation of a “skunk works” project. But I found very few book titles.
Perhaps my favorite book, for good and bad reasons, is The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature by Richard Conniff. I can remember seeing it for the first time in a bookstore in Heathrow Airport. I literally ran across the store and grabbed the book to see what it was all about. Its an interesting look at human behavior prevalent in corporate life, and uses observations of natural species (particularly primates) to explain. I think the theme is not only extremely useful, but also entirely valid from an etiological or evolutionary perspective. You only have to sit watching a troop of Chacma Baboons to understand how organizational rank and hierarchy originated. Of course, perhaps like me, you’ve known a couple of less than pleasant colleagues who have occupied corner offices? So, the bad reason for rushing to buy this book was that I hoped a few of them would be exposed, by name, shamed forever in print.
Another favorite of mine is The Black Swan. The book explores how unlikely events happen, often with massive consequences. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, these “black swans” can be seen to have shaped many economic swings. It’s a humbling book for business experts who enjoy reputations for predicting the future! Then there is The Dead Bison Theory. Using the empty plains of North America, now devoid of the once copious Bison as an alarming warning, Carte lays out sound advice to managers aspiring to success in the corporate ecosystem. The cartoonish Animals Inc.: A Business Parable for the 21st Century brings decades of Gallup knowledge to life through a cast of barnyard characters that run a very human-looking enterprise. In similarly light hearted fashion, the author of Fish! A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results brings his management advice through an true-life analogue. Although the example that Lundin uses is actually Seattle fishmongers, he retains the animal in the title. Guerilla Marketing and Blue Ocean Strategy describe business strategy. Purple Cow urges the business reader to be remarkable, as the title suggests. Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive will resonate with many corporate refugees who wish they had read it before they were eaten alive.
So, what’s my point? Animal and environmental analogs provide excellent windows into understanding and modifying organizational behavior. They are relevant, fun and impactful. I’ve started a list of these titles on this site. Help us to build a reference library for your own use by sending in the names of similar books you have enjoyed. Stay tuned to this blog, to the Body-Corporate and our Biosimilars programs as we explore and exploit this powerful medium.
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