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Managing the Human Animal – review

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Title: Managing the Human Animal
Author: Nigel Nicholson
Publisher: Texere, London
ISBN: 1587990318
Price: £18.99

Buy this book from the TrainingZONE – Blackwells bookshop.

Nicholson is professor at the London Business School and is a major player in the field of evolutionary psychology around which this book is based. I found this book interesting to read, although at times thought that examples had been skewed to fit into the required models.

Evolutionary psychology is a field that reminds us that we are animals, with a highly engineered, genetically encoded design. It is argued that we our brains are hardwired as a result to do things such as:
– make snap judgements based on emotion
– let one piece of bad news drive out a hundred pieces of good
– take big risks when threatened and avoid risks when comfortable
– create opportunities for display and competitive contest and so on.

The book aims to move us from passively accepting the costs of our instincts in the modern world to understanding them so that we can manage them with insight.

Nicholson appears to be arguing that de-layering hierarchical organisations is a waste of time as the animal in us all wants – and perhaps even needs – such structure so that we know where we stand. Organisations that have de-layered will find that some other form of hierarchy gets adopted,– returning back to our animal instincts. I find this a difficult argument to swallow. It smacks of defeatism, that whatever puff and gloss we may add at the end of the day we are just instinctual creatures.

We are told that we create problems for ourselves by imagining that the differences between the sexes and their effects can be eliminated. This is a subtle but, in my view, disturbing reinterpretation of equality and diversity issues, implying that we are striving for ‘sameness’ which is of course impossible. I do not believe this is the goal of equality and diversity. We are also told that there are innate reasons why people are either fit or unfit for leadership, however the logical conclusion that there are those who therefore must enjoy being led isn’t made.

I’m sure that there are those, presumably Anglo-Saxon, male and in leadership roles, who will relish being told that their success is due to genetics and they have nothing to fear from those of us who aren’t as well blessed through our ancestry. I find such a view of humanity far too pessimistic and not much help for those of us who strive to see organisations improve, rather than providing them with excuses for their Stone Age behaviour.

Matthew Simkin


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