06 November 2010

The Wisdom of Bees

Written by Published in Book Reviews

Michael O’Malley knows a few things about business organisations. As a former management consultant, he coached on how to achieve greater efficiency and cohesiveness. Then, after becoming a beekeeper, he was soon greatly struck by how much bees’ behaviour could teach us about maximising performance within companies

The result is a fairly likeable anecdotal book split into 25 chapters, or ‘lessons’, with a sprinkling of fascinating information. (Did you know that bees have an inbuilt version of an intranet in their comb, through which they transmit signals of between 230 and 270 Hertz; or that they can visit up to 10,000 flowers a day and report places of interest to other bees?).

Less appealing, however, is the author’s fondness for platitudinous or laboured business-speak: who wants to hear phrases like ‘coarse reductions in exploratory spending constrict future market options’? And difficult questions, such as how are innovation, quirkiness and individuality upheld within a model which espouses everything being sacrificed by the drones to the Queen? – not the kind of organisation I’d want to work in – spring to mind, but are not tackled. 

With bees being the wonderful, endlessly interesting creatures they are, no doubt Mr O’Malley cannot wait to retire from business completely, like Sherlock Holmes, who went into beekeeping to complete The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture. Conan Doyle commented that the social organisation of bees provided more incident than any London street. O’Malley would do well to forego the business of the corporate world completely for the business of the beehive, because that’s fascinating enough in itself.

The Wisdom of Bees by Michael O’Malley (Penguin) £9.99

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