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The Wisdom of Bees: What the Hive Can Teach Business about Leadership, Efficiency, and Growth Hardcover – May 13, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Social psychologist (and avid beekeeper) O'Malley draws management guidance from the hive in this charming rundown of best business practices. It turns out bees work on the same kinds of problems we are trying to solve in our organizations, including the best strategies for managing short-term vs. long-term gains, stability vs. flexibility, individuality vs. community, and similarity vs. change. O'Malley applies lessons learned from those clever bees to strategies to help organizations survive and grow while wasting as little energy and resources as possible, to expand exploration during low-growth periods, to maintain durability over the long run, to keep energy levels up, to provide ongoing feedback, to avoid overengineering, to discover and use an individual's specialized talents, and to be objective and data driven. The advice itself is your standard management-lesson fare, but presented in a concise, conversational format with great personality, practicality, and verve. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Almost every analogy under the sun has been used to promote and explain old and new rules of business, from animals to famous historical personages. Yale University editor, social psychologist, and beekeeper O’Malley parlays all of his competencies into an examination of bee behavior and its application to the world of commerce. Much research informs his 25 lessons of bee-dom. One lesson––“promote community, sanction self-interest”––compares the unity of the hive, where all members, in some way, serve the queen bee is a good rule for the c-suite to remember. Every lesson follows a similar pattern: first, discuss a particular concept of the aviary, then compare it to the for-profit universe, then extract the “shoulds.” Do leaders really need two dozen more principles? Instead, take to heart his four conclusions about the ways honey bees balance: short- versus long-term gains; stability versus flexibility; individuality versus community; similarity versus change. --Barbara Jacobs

More to Explore
Read the introduction and first chapter from The Wisdom of Bees [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio (May 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159184326X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591843269
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,538 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First off, this book has nothing to offer the would-be beekeeper. In the same category as "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," this is the kind of book a corporate CEO picks up in an airport newsstand, hoping to glean a few gems of inspiration to bolster, perhaps, his or her subordinates. Unfortunately, to reach out to CEO's and managers, the author, a management consultant and beekeeper, presents the hive as analogous to a corporation with the queen bee as a benevolent ruler in charge, who magnanimously delegates authority and keeps the whole operation running smoothly. Alas, a beehive is nothing of the sort to those in the know. Although her pheromones play an organizational role, the queen bee is primarily a specialized, egg-laying machine, laying a thousand or more eggs a day, and she certainly doesn't tell the other bees what to do. In fact, if the the other worker bees feel she isn't satisfactorily fulfilling her task, they'll bump her off and raise up another queen to take her place. Rather than a model for the would-be capitalist, a beehive is more like a communistic cooperative in which each member subordinates themselves for the good of the whole and knows his or her particular task without being given any orders. No one visible to the eye is in charge of this superorganism and there isn't any one bee at the top. If bees have any wisdom to teach humankind, it won't be found by seeing them as something they simply are not. Faulty premises and stretched analogies sink this promising book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has a lot of good information that can definitely be used in every level of life from home, children, work and beekeeping. I kind of got bogged down in the weightiness of the information and had to re read a lot but overall it is a useful book.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's interesting; however, it could have been more concise (repeats a lot) and I somehow feel the author is trying to force the parallel between corporations and the hive a but too much. If it were 50% shorter, I would have given it 4 starts.
A unique idea though...
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Format: Kindle Edition
Whilst I am obliged to praise the author for his good writing and organizing skills, I am not comfortable that he, a social psychologist, decided to pitch his concepts disregarding the many differences between humans and bees, say, quoting Nietzsche, "In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." In short, readable. If you want to read some stuff about how bees do good as a species or some non bee specific management concepts, this is fine. If you want a compeat management book that gives practical advice, please give this a pass.

p.s. Below please find some of my favorite passages for your reference.
Recall that Sherlock Homes ultimately retires to Sussex Downs to live the reflective life of a beekeeper and to complete this magnum opus, The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture. When he is later brought back into service to capture the German spy von Bork, Watson is surprised by Holmes's reappearance, thinking that he had withdrawn from society. Holmes eases Watson's concerns by asserting that he has been fully engaged in the details of human interaction by spending many "pensive nights and laborious days" watching the "little workings of gangs". Pg7
Bees don't focus exclusively on the most productive flower patches at any given time, and for good reason. Conditions change rapidly for bees and they can ill afford wide swings in pollen and nectar intake. What is best now probably won't be tomorrow. In the animal kingdom, the "famine" in "feast or famine" is a death sentence. Thus, when a lucrative vein of nectar is discovered, the entire colony doesn't rush off to mine it no matter how enriching the short term benefits.
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