The Ape in the Corner Office
How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature
By Richard Conniff
(Crown Business, Paperback, 9781400052202, 352pp.)
Publication Date: April 24, 2007
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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
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.
“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