There was a rustle in a tree at the edge of the yard. Knowing it had something to do with my seven-year-old son, I said, "Whatcha doing in there Michael." And out of the green came a child's voice: "I'm practicing to be a monkey."
It struck me as simply funny at first, the wit of innocence. But then Michael's words took on a more complicated meaning. How many of us, I wondered, are more or less professionally doing the same thing?
When you go to the zoo, the monkeys are sure a lot of fun to watch, but you never see them working very hard. Maybe that's why they're so engaging. All swing and squawk, not much fighting, foraging for food, or caring for the young--at least that we notice. They're in a protected environment, of course, so the threats are small, the responsibility to make their own way taken over by professionals.
When a creature grows up in a sequestered environment, I suppose it's hard to envision any other way. But regardless of the cause, one has to wonder if those people who've "grown-up" in a corporate environment aren't much like those primates, emulating behavior that is several steps removed from the real food chain.
Maybe we spend a little too much time trying to do the "proper" things. Cozying up to the right people. Telling the right stories. Measuring the right variables. And as we get caught up in it all--largely because that's the sort of behavior the culture really encourages--maybe we forget to think about whether all this activity is truly contributing to the success of the organization.
What's more important: Making your boss happy? Or, making your customers happy? That's a tough call in most companies, regardless of what their official mission statements say. Your boss can give you reinforcement, raises, promotions and more. Customers can only give your company the resources that sustain it.
Bosses and customers are not mutually exclusive options of course. It's a much more subtle judgment of how and where one chooses to devote his or her energies.
Good managers are made happy by happy customers. Good companies make good managers. Otherwise, the company makes monkeys of us all.