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The Ape in the Corner Office: Understanding the Workplace Beast in All of Us [Kindle Edition]

Richard Conniff
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $9.99
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Tired of swimming with the sharks? Fed up with that big ape down the hall? Real animals can teach us better ways to thrive in the workplace jungle.

You’re ambitious and want to get ahead, but what’s the best way to do it? Become the biggest, baddest predator? The proverbial 800-pound gorilla? Or does nature teach you to be more subtle and sophisticated?

Richard Conniff, the acclaimed author of The Natural History of the Rich, has survived savage beasts in the workplace jungle, where he hooted and preened in the corner office as a publishing executive. He’s also spent time studying how animals operate in the real jungles of the Amazon and the African bush.

What he shows in The Ape in the Corner Office is that nature built you to be nice. Doing favors, grooming coworkers with kind words, building coalitions—these tools for getting ahead come straight from the jungle. The stereotypical Darwinian hard-charger supposedly thinks only about accumulating resources. But highly effective apes know it’s often smarter to give them away. That doesn’t mean it’s a peaceable kingdom out there, however. Conniff shows that you can become more effective by understanding how other species negotiate the tricky balance between conflict and cooperation.

Conniff quotes one biologist on a chimpanzee’s obsession with rank: “His attempts to maintain and achieve alpha status are cunning, persistent, energetic, and time-consuming. They affect whom he travels with, whom he grooms, where he glances, how often he scratches, where he goes, what times he gets up in the morning.” Sound familiar? It’s the same behavior you can find written up in any issue of BusinessWeek or The Wall Street Journal.

The Ape in the Corner Office connects with the day-to-day of the workplace because it helps explain what people are really concerned about: How come he got the wing chair with the gold trim? How can I survive as that big ape’s subordinate without becoming a spineless yes-man? Why does being a lone wolf mean being a loser? And, yes, why is it that jerks seem to prosper—at least in the short run?

Also available as a Random House AudioBook and an eBook

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews


“A splendid writer—fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step.” —New York Times Book Review
The Ape in the Corner Office is an entertaining safari through the commercial jungle, observing the habits of business apes as they swing from branch office to branch office.” —Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape
“Chockablock with fascinating tales from the juxtaposition of natural history and work. If you’re thoughtful about what you do (and you care about how we got here), this is a page-turner.” —Seth Godin, author of All Marketers Are Liars
“Richard Conniff puts the business suit back on Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape. This book moves beyond the simplistic embrace of aggression by sociobiologists of the past and the management clichés of today. Conniff effortlessly draws upon updated insights from ethology, economics, psychology, and the arts to apply factual insights to current headlines and everyday business life. The law of the jungle turns out to be a complex code of competition and cooperation that Conniff applies to entrepreneurial triumphs, governance collapses, the sharing spirit of inspired work teams, and the sabotage of conspiring colleagues. While this lively research-anchored book rewards the reader with engaging insights into the lives of celebrities, our co-workers, and our neighbors, it never feels like gossipy voyeurism, just vital clairvoyance.” —Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, associate dean, Yale School of Management

From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Richard Conniff’s work takes him from the executive suite to a casual swim with piranhas in the Amazon, from tea in the member’s dining room at the House of Lords to the driver’s seat in a demolition derby. He won the 1997 National Magazine Award for his writing in Smithsonian and the 1998 Wildscreen Prize for Best Natural History Television Script for the BBC show Between Pacific Tides. His previous books include The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide and he has also written for Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Time, and National Geographic.

Product Details

  • File Size: 407 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (September 6, 2005)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,546 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great resource! October 26, 2005
The Ape in the Corner Office is an interesting, entertaining and often too truthful a read. It appears we cannot divest ourselves fully from our instinctual ancestors, the Ape and even the Rat. We share too much biological similarities.Richard Conniff has researched and written a credible account of how our ancestral behaviors play an important role in establishing and maintaining a sense of safety, social hierarchy, community and competitive advantage. This could be a terrifying thought, yet, Conniff's storytelling ability, vast business experience (reads like a who's who in business), well-cited research and humor serves to pacify the reader, at least momentarily.

As a trainer and speaker I want to beware The Ape in the Corner Office, lest I become buffaloed by a passive, yet, hostile audience. This is a book I will return to for insights anytime I see the furry face rising in either myself or others.

Conniff candidly shares how his behaviors have at times prevented him from endearing the client and gaining the contract. His advice: if you are going to let your beast roar, compete or fight consciously, be aware of the risks, rewards and lasting implications your instinctual behavior may have. The book is entertaining, thought provoking and a useful tool for people who want to know the human and beastly side of their business.

And we are not out of the woods. Just because humans have verbal communication, a relatively newly acquired form of communication, it only serves to cover up our more instinctual responses. Despite polite words and social appropriate manner it is still our nonverbal communications that reveals the truth.

Armchair Interviews says, after you read The Ape in the Corner office, you'll have a pen handy to jot down any of the great contacts and resources the author gives you to navigate the river of commerce that runs through your office jungle.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Ape December 7, 2005
This book is an excellent treatment of how we behave in organizations. The comparisons and metaphors to apes, tribes and others in the animal kingdom provides a terrific lens through which we can view all sorts of corporate behavior. As a management consultant and executive coach, I am always looking for unique and interesting ways to teach my clients new approaches for performance improvement and organizational effectiveness. Conniff's book gives you all that and more.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book with a bad title April 7, 2007
This book would have done even better if the publisher hadn't decided to put a photo of an ape in a suit on the back cover. The title suggests a critique of corporate executives - more like a diatribe or light-weight commentary. Unfortunately comparing people to apes comes across as an insult (to put it mildly) rather than as a scientific statement about the biological basis of behavior.

In fact, the book draws on published research to explain why people behave as they do in the workplace. Conflict and day-to-day hassles just go with the territory. Conniff doesn't give us a lot of guidance for handling sticky situations, but I think many people will benefit from understanding that their own situation is hardly unusual.

As he says, we tend to focus on what's negative, and we tend to behave dysfunctionally. Some examples are chilling: the consultant who went oout of his way to scare a junior consultant just before a big meeting and the angry rant of Andy Grove at a big Intel meeting.

Definitely recommended.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As much fun as an office full of monkeys February 21, 2006
I've seen Conniff's work before in some documentaries he did for National Geographic. His loving look at praire dogs being sucked into giant praire dog sucking machines, all seen through a special 'dog cam' inside the machine, should give you some idea of his sensibility. It's all true, it's all facts and it provides a perspective on the larger world- but it's also hilarious. He balances the right mix of anecdote with hard facts to produce an accessible and breezy book that says some very disturbing things about our close relationship to the animal world, and what we're really doing in our day to day interactions at the office. But if you are in fact a monkey, my friend, the gig is up.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read For everyone!!! August 11, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was selected by the teacher (American Lit) for my son's summer reading. I was flabbergast by the name but as I read a few pages, I get to find out the APE is a replica of the real "working world" we're living in. I encourage everyone to read it along with your will learn alot through this book. Enjoy!!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great for engineer who has to work with people July 23, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great insights into how people act like animals. There's a mix of the technical and the practical aspects in this book. I originally "read" the audio book, which is a subset of the entire work. While your mileage may vary, I enjoyed understanding how we can learn from animal behaviors if we aren't too proud. I'm not saying we behave like monkeys, but there is a lot of similarities, and many things I picked up on the human interaction that wasn't taught in engineering school for me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars More Entertaining than Informative July 14, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While entertaining, and often amusing, excessive attention was devoted to the repugnant and bullying behavior exhibited by several notorious CEOs. I feel that that comparing these Corporate Caligulas to the ape-world is unjust, and the author owes the apes an apology.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Richard Conniff is an extraordinary writer. If you're a Malcolm Gladwell fan, as I am, and you participate, on any level, in the corporate world, then prepare to be delighted you treated yourself to this book. With dry wit and a density of research material (studies, anecdotes perfectly suited to the point), Conniff does to the working world what he did to the rarified social circles of the very rich: he examines his subject from the point of view of a naturalist's blind and then reports the behavior of these strangest of all animals, the human being.

Why is being a jerk a workable strategy for a company boss, and under what circumstances does that strategy break down? Why is it a bad idea to appear overly enthusiastic (waving at passers-by, etc.) in your new office? What makes one kind of corporate culture (Google, Pixar, etc.) work and another (Enron) toxic and implosive? All this can be understood by examining corporate culture through the eyes of a veteran naturalist.

I'd offer to loan you my copy of "Corner Office" and my other favorite of Conniff's books ("Natural History of the Rich"), but I'm afraid I'm going to keep mine close at hand. I'm going to be reading them again very soon.

From one monkey to another, you're gonna love this guy's work. You'll be so elevated by the writing you'll swing from the tree limbs, and then break one off, and then hit the ground with it so that all the other monkeys can see that you can break a really big branch (does any of this simian behavior strike you as somehow familiar?). Why Richard Conniff isn't yet a household name is, to me, a mystery which, given time, I'm sure he will explore in another hilariously insightful book, this time about the nature of celebrity.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book that explains a lot of our behavior in the work place.
Excellent book that explains a lot of our behavior in the work place.
Published 2 months ago by Yeyati Nafrey
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opening look at our behavior
Richard Conniff has written a very factual and entertaining book that connects all types of human behavior, especially those that you encounter with your colleagues at work, with... Read more
Published on October 14, 2012 by StanEvolve
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting and Informative
This book is a must read for anyone who wants to succeed to their full potential in an organization. Read more
Published on December 21, 2011 by Lifelong Litterateur
4.0 out of 5 stars This was a gift
This was a gift,
so I don't know if it was any good, but the transaction was fine.
Published on June 24, 2010 by Teddy B
4.0 out of 5 stars Human Behavior?
This is a well written and humorous take on comparative psychology. The author gives many examples of similar behavior among all primates and even lesser animals to illustrate... Read more
Published on July 4, 2007 by G. S. Kearney
5.0 out of 5 stars A fun read and one that will make you think
I liked this book so much I did an interview with the author on my podcast, The Invisible Hand.
Published on February 3, 2006 by Christoph B. Gondek
4.0 out of 5 stars Good range of topics, treated with interest
This book is a study in attempting to popularize biology (from worms to primates, with an occasional use of human psychological studies). Read more
Published on December 11, 2005 by Paul Sas
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More About the Author

Richard Conniff writes about behavior on two, four, six, and eight legs. He has collected tarantulas in the Peruvian Amazon, tracked leopards with !Kung San hunters in the Namibian desert, climbed the Mountains of the Moon in western Uganda, and trekked through the Himalayas of Bhutan in pursuit of tigers and the mythical migur.

His latest book is The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth (Norton, November). Also now out in paperback is Swimming With Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals (Norton, 2009). He is the author of The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights, and Work Smarter By Understanding Human Nature (Crown, 2004), The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide (Norton, 2002); Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife (Holt, 1998); Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World (Holt, 1996); and other books.

The New York Times Book Review says, "Conniff is a splendid writer--fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can't resist quoting him."

Conniff also writes about wildlife, human cultures and other topics for Time, Smithsonian, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and other publications in the United States and abroad. His magazine work in Smithsonian won the 1997 National Magazine Award, and was included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing in 2000, 2002, and 2007. Conniff is also the winner of the 2001 John Burroughs Award for Outstanding Nature Essay of the Year, a 2009 Loeb Award for distinguished business journalism, a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship,and a 2012 Alicia Patterson Fellowship.

Conniff has been a frequent commentator on NPR and recently served as a guest columnist for The New York Times online. He has written and presented television shows for National Geographic, TBS, Animal Planet, the BBC, and Channel Four in the UK. His television work has been nominated for an Emmy Award for distinguished achievement in writing, and he won the 1998 Wildscreen Prize for Best Natural History Television Script for the BBC show Between Pacific Tides.

You can follow him on Twitter @RichardConniff, and on his blog


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