Customer Reviews: Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up
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on March 31, 2002
The elephant referred to in this title of this witty and joyfully manipulative little book is your boss, the powerful but lumbering and self-involved authority figure that Fortune columnist Stanley Bing believes is comfortably ensconced in your company's corner office. Bing begins his manual on the care and feeding of these "business elephants" with the admonition that people don't get to choose their bosses; like the weather or gravity, bosses exist as laws of nature that exceed the control of the mere mortal mosquitoes that hover about them. "Throwing the Elephant" is likely to become the kind of book that people start reading because it makes them laugh and end up giving to their friends because there's so much to learn from it. While it's a little lopsided to see the boss/employee dynamic as exclusively a power-based relationship, there's still a lot of wisdom about corporate life packed into this little book, which, like the "Dilbert" cartoons, succeeds in suggesting aspects of workplace culture that almost everyone can relate to. Now, of course, someone needs to write a book for the elephants, telling them how to deal with those pesky mosquitoes who keep buzzing around them, clamoring for attention and drinking up their lifeblood. I also highly recommend another little book of wisdom titled "Open Your Mind, Open Your Life" by Taro Gold which has helped me greatly deal with the elephants in my life!
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on March 28, 2002
"Throwing the Elephant" deals with the situation that the majority of us have had to face at one point or the other...just exactly what do we do with this great big elephant (read: manager) that is towering over us? Throuout the book you will find tales of the Buddha fast forwarded into the modern day in support of the ideas that the author wishes you to learn in order to deal with the elephant at hand. The topics range from how to prepare yourself for the first meeting with the elephant, keeping the elephant well fed, and even how to deal with your own inner elephant. While I do have some experience with Zen in other areas, the lessons that are given throughout the book are easily grasped regardless of any familiarity with the concepts behind Zen.
While this book is focused primarily on the elephants that you encounter in your work a day world, the information is helpful in any situation where you may encounter elephants in your life. If you are looking for a quick read that will have you laughing to yourself, while learning how to deal with elephants and still maintain a sense of calm and serenity, then this book is for you.
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on June 27, 2003
I discovered this great book after starting my own business, having left my cubicle at a large wireless telecom firm only a few months prior. I wish I had read it while at that miserable job. It would have helped me to that perfect state of blissful not-caring that I tried so hard to achieve. For someone who is passionate about what they do, is professional, wants to accomplish something in life (besides kissing someone's a**), this book also helps you realize that unless you want to live in that state, maybe Corporate America isn't for you. The book also reveals exactly what is wrong with the state of corporations today--they are run by big fat egos-- that are truly overpaid, get bonuses for losing money, and don't go to jail even when they steal from their own employees. So thank you Stanley Bing for your clever insights and reinforcing my decision. Keep 'em coming.
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on April 11, 2002
If you read Stanley Bing's regular column in Fortune magazine, you know what a wonderful way he has of capturing the idiosyncracies of the corporate world, and letting those of us who don't occupy a corner office in on the real reality of our daily lives.
No doubt Bing is funny, and this book will sometimes have you wondering if he's really joking -- you will certainly be able to relate his humorous stories to some situation of your own. The true gift of "Throwing the Elephant" is that it offers us "corporate monks" what it is we really need -- some humor in our work lives, and the permission to laugh at the randomness of the world. And, of course, verification that the "elephants" we all serve are just as crazy sometimes as we really think they are.
But be forwarned -- this is no traditional "how to make it in business without really trying" book. Before reading, you must first have the ability not to take your position and work too seriously -- you must be able to prioritize the truly important things in life. As Bing whispers to us over the pages, that is where true wisdom and true success really come from.
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The allegory of the herding of the ox appeared in English as long ago as 1934 in Alan Watts's first book: The Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work and Art in the Far East. It has since appeared again and again in the literature of Zen Buddhism, but see especially D. T. Suzuki's Manual of Zen Buddhism. Here Fortune magazine columnist and sometime corporate cog and very funny guy, Stanley Bing brings us up to date on how the allegory might play out in the corporate structure. Instead of an ox that the boy innocent manages to tame, Bing gives us an elephant. And instead of taming one's inner self (which is the point of the ox herding story) one tames one's boss, who is after all but a dumb animal. However again, and very cleverly, Bing shows us that to tame one's boss or to tame one's self amounts to the same thing.
Curious. But true.
There is a kind of The Tao of Pooh meets Dilbert and Murphy's Law on the Way to Enlightenment, done up with the kind of side bars and shaded boxes and cute graphics that one finds in computer learning or "Dummie's" guides "feel" to this little gem. The design of the book is gorgeous, and the book itself is small enough even in hardcover to fit into a suit jacket pocket, should the need arise.
Bing's "Buddha Bullets" and other asides (scattered throughout) are sometimes funny, sometimes illuminating, and sometimes just plain dumb, but always in the Zen spirit of kicking the Buddha by the side of the road (should you meet him). His "portrait" of the elephant will amuse, delight and find ready acknowledgment by any who have ever served an elephant--powerful, inimitable, crude, primitive and cagey force that the elephant is. Remember, the elephant is BIGGER than you are, so it never hurts to kiss it up, fairly well sums up Bing's deep and strangely moving message.
The quotes at the beginning of each chapter from the Ten Ox Herding Paintings to, e.g., The Dhammapada, Groucho Marx, Dan Quayle and various CEOs--not to mention Mary Meeker, The Doors, and Mark Twain--blend together seamlessly so that curiously they become one in their wisdom or ironic lack thereof.
On a deeper level the elephant is the corporation itself, at once your master, your mother, your livelihood. Bring that broom and shovel and follow along as you must until, as Bing has it in the last chapter on page 196, you "become proficient in the Zen art of elephant handling." At such time, your heart "drained...of desire," your mind "emptied," you have the elephant on leash, and the elephant knows that is where he belongs (as the boy has the ox by the nose ring).
Some might say that the deeper meaning of the ox herding story is it serves as a guide to meditation, the ox being the recalcitrant mind of the boy who becomes a man. And so it is here: and so Bing advises as he ends the book: "sit down and don't think at all."
Bottom line: this is a deliciously clever idea beautifully realized.
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on November 16, 2013
Boring. The content of the book could have been conveyed in a couple of paragraphs. And only relevant if you really have a BIG
BOSS, not just any supervisor. I can't believe it was recommended to me. And recommended by an HR person.
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on July 9, 2003
I gave this book 3 stars instead of 2 because it really made me laugh. However, if you have been in corporate American for more than 5 years, you probably already know that "elephants" (Sr. Management) are self-centered weirdos, not normal people like you and me. And the best way to get by is to let them be what they are and ensure you simply manage around their craziness. If you are hoping for useful advice, seek elsewhere. For a funny read, enjoy this book.
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on March 11, 2016
Loved the book, hated the cover on the reprint edition. Brown-nosing is not what this book is about, brown-nosing involves a different mindset entirely than what Stanley Bing puts forward in this book. For the hard-cover edition with the whimsical artwork on the front, I would give it four stars. Don't take it overly seriously, it is a book designed to lighten your attitude and position on things you can't fix. Don't let the zen references put you off, it is a tongue-in-cheek approach Bing used for this book. It's not a ultimate, profound, life-changing, deep knowledge text compared to some (such as Kubler-Ross) -- yet I keep returning to it once in a while for a refresher read.

Two copies of the hard-bound edition are on my shelves. The software cover with the brown nose went into the trash because that first impression fails to set the right mood for what is inside.
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on October 24, 2014
This little tome is deceptively simple and amusing to read. It is also one of the most powerful business books out there, for those acolytes who wish to advance in their careers without being trampled by the large grey beast in the corner office. Using plenty of examples from real companies and famous elephants such as Jack Welch and Martha Stewart, author Bing shows how the denial of self and the understanding of the nothingness that is business life can bring peace and power to the lowly elephant handler. The metaphor is perfect, and amuses the reader throughout. Most importantly, it provides a unique perspective that allows us to stay sane and even learn to enjoy, or at least tolerate, serving even the most unreasonable of elephant bosses.
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on September 7, 2012
Yes, there is some humor in this book. Yes, it explains the reason why narcissists are the way they are. Yes, it gives you advice in how to deal with narcissists. Was the read enjoyable? I found it frustrating that everything was written as an analogy or a philosophical parallel. I believe it would have been more enjoyable if they started out with a brief analogy/philosophical parallel and then used the authors humor to write the rest of the narrative as a personal anecdote.
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