Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Ape in the Corner Office: Understanding the Workplace Beast in All of Us by Richard Conniff

The Ape in the Corner Office : Understanding the Workplace Beast in All of Us – Crown Business, 2005, ISBN 1-4000-5219-X, 352 P. Although this book is not directly related to memetics, it’s great and a real fun to read. The main approach of the book is to trace our workplace behavior to our animal ancestry, and to show what to do about it. Hence, you will not find terms like “meme” or “group selection” in this book, the author clearly is well aware of them – enough to say that one of the chapters is called “Nice Monkey: The Search for the Unselfish Gene”, clearly a tribute to Dawkins’ “Selfish Gene” book. Still he touches the subjects easily explainable with the memetics theory. One example is the chapter “Monkey See…: The Power of Imitation”, where he talks about such subjects as “The Infectious Workplace” about emotions and attitudes spreading in a workplace like infections, or “Caveat Imitator” where he discusses how new managements fads get afoot because of success stories. The second example is specially illustrative. Here is how it goes: imagine N companies engaged in different and worthless initiatives. Some of them will fail, some, by an accident, succeed. Successful ones may be adopted by others with another round of random results. Early or later, some initiative will collect three or four success stories in a row. Once it happens, management consultants start to spread it as “carriers”. Quote: “…and like the vectors of a disease the quickly spread the Big Idea around the corporate market place.” That was the case with “quality circles” in 70s, “job enrichment”, total quality management”, or “reengineering”. Does this remind you of something? Yes, many management theories are a perfect example of mind viruses with the anchors, carriers and payload in a clear sight. By the way, being somewhat related to the management theories, I don’t think that all these initiative were really useless. It’s just once the fad is on, a lot of people, who have no clue, are starting to spread it around, as well as a lot of people, who are not capable of executing on them, try to do so. Management theories, like nuclear physics, require intelligence to be applied. Otherwise, you get a big boom – wrong place, wrong time. In the end, I cannot resist one more quote from the book: “Assuming it holds up to scrutiny, the beauty of the idea is that it seems to provide a coherent explanation of the behavior of creatures from flatworms to corporate CEOs.

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