What the Hive Can Teach Business about Leadership, Efficiency, and Growth

Book Review

New York Journal of Books
May 13, 2010
Review URL: 
http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/search?q=the+wisdom+of+bees

When The Wisdom of Bees first arrived in my mailbox, I greeted it with a bit of trepidation, thinking that this was going to be another business book shoehorned into a contrived theme. I was presently surprised to find myself engrossed by author O’Malley’s slim book that proclaims that the business world can learn a lot from how bees go about their business.

After reading it, I realize he may be onto something.

More than just a simple beekeeper, O’Malley has the business chops to back up his words; he’s currently the Executive Editor for Business, Economics, and Law at the Yale University Press and holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and Quantitative Methods from Vanderbilt University.

O’Malley briefly introduces how he came about becoming a beekeeper and then dives into the history and workings of these industrious little insects, particularly the honeybee. The book is divided into 24 very short “lessons”—each one approximately six pages in length—that detail some facet about the honeybee, its hive, and how they relate to business.

The Wisdom of Beesmanages to provide just enough folksy information to be entertaining, but not so much as to be annoying. It’s peppered with paragraph-length case studies of corporations utilizing a methodology also employed by the honeybee. For instance, Lesson 7—Order and Innovate through Fuzzy Constraints uses Johnson & Johnson as an example of a company articulating “a vision of what it means to be a part of the J&J community” as a hive articulates what it means to be part of the hive.

And while Bees doesn’t stand up to the intellectual rigor as might be found in an MBA-level textbook, that isn’t its point; rather, it seeks to be both informative and entertaining without being boring and trite. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to see that the author neatly summed up each of his lessons at the back of the book and provided citations and references for each lesson.

Finishing the book, I’m reminded of Einstein’s quote, “any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”

While O’Malley doesn’t provide any earth-shattering advice, the book is both breezy a and conversational. Those seeking an advanced primer on business management should look elsewhere. However, those looking for a good introductory or refresher book to shore up their management skills will enjoy it, if for nothing else, to learn how bees “heat-ball” unwanted outside leadership and how an outside leader might avoid a similar fate.

Besides, it’s hard to find business books that end with the words, “. . . and lives happily ever after.”

No pun intended.

Reviewer Logan Lo is a small business consultant under the guise of an intellectual property attorney and a certified general real estate appraiser. He is currently an associate at the commercial litigation firm Woods & Lonergan in their Intellectual Property and Real Estate Practices.

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