The Wisdom of Bees: A book review by Bob Morris

The Wisdom of Bees: What the Hive Can Teach Business About Leadership, Efficiency, and Growth
Michael O’Malley
Portfolio/Penguin (2010)

“What they have done has worked for them”…and can work for us as well.

I read this book when it was first published more than a year ago and have since purchased several dozen copies to give as gifts to family members and friends as well as to clients who have (you guessed it) serious “people problems” in the workplace. This review is overdue. Others have shared their reasons for hold this book in such high regard. Here are three of mine. First, its author, Michael O’Malley, is exceptionally well-qualified – as a social psychologist, management consultant, executive editor for Yale University Press, and avid beekeeper — to suggest what lessons can be learned from bees and their culture. He identifies and then discusses 24, devoting a separate chapter to each. They range from “Protect the Future” (#1) to “Create Beautiful, Functional Spaces” (#24). Those who wish to strengthen their leadership and management skills will appreciate the precision and eloquence of O’Malley’s observations, insights, and counsel.

I also appreciate how skillfully he anchors each of his key points in an authentic context, the world of bees. He enables his reader to become almost (not quite) as fascinated as he is with “the regularity of their behavior…[The fact that they] live in colonies with overlapping generations and do all the things we do: provide shelter, care for their young, eat, work, and sleep. In addition, they have developed a [production] system that rivals ours in complexity and surpasses it in efficiency.” As I worked my way through the lively narrative, O’Malley helped me to understand and appreciate “the wisdom of bees” for reasons that have absolutely nothing and yet — paradoxically — everything to do with its relevance to the human workplace.

Finally, I greatly appreciate the fact that O’Malley immediately establishes and then sustains a direct rapport with his reader. I felt as if I were right there with him as he tended to his own bees while providing a running monologue on what was happening…and why. Then later, as if sitting on a porch nearby, his monologue continues with a combination of delight, amazement, and appreciation of what the culture of honeybees reveals about “the twists and turns they make in their struggles. What they have done has worked for them”…and can work for us as well.

 

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