Maxim: Prefer Ninjas to Worker Bees

15 Jun

I have sat in a number of meetings where a manager will get up and talk about the important contribution of the “worker bees” performance to the organization.  That’s like talking about the important contribution that jelly makes to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Yes, we all agree a PB&J isn’t the same without the J, but face it, the PB is the rock star in that relationship.

A Worker bee is any female eusocial bee that lacks the full reproductive capacity of the colony’s queen bee; under most circumstances, this is correlated to an increase in certain non-reproductive activities relative to a queen, as well. Worker bees occur in many bee species other than honey bees, but this is by far the most familiar colloquial use of the term.
Great.  Being a worker bee for *a bee* isn’t even that good. If you have any doubt about whether there is a positive connotation to being a worker bee, just ask your  boss if his boss considers him a worker bee.  Bet that will go over good.  Still have doubts? Ask your kid what he wants to be for Halloween: A Honey Bee or a Ninja? Yeah, guess the outcome on that one…

Now, when I hire, I prefer ninjas.  What’s a ninja?  Where the hell have you been?  Kansas? There’s a freaking ninja standing behind you right now.  Let’s punt and go with Wikipedia again:

In Japanese history, a ninja (忍者 ninja?) is a warrior specially trained in a variety of unorthodox arts of war. These include assassination, illusion, espionage, and variousmartial arts.

Ok, that sounds bloody violent (yay?).  Ok, let’s do the old switch-a-roo and convert that into work-speak.  Assassination?  That’s just getting the job done…really well.  Illusion — that’s being able to brief a client effectively (no, I’m not saying lie, I’m saying that the best briefings typically have some story time element that presents a benefit to the client).  Espionage?  That just means they’re aware of the environment.  Martial arts?  That’s the core of their job and they *are* good.

Maybe you are in fact running an assembly line and you don’t think you need ninjas.  Maybe you’re right — you’d use a robot if you could, but you don’t and you’re got people.  Now tell me what it costs to refer to your employees as ninjas (denoting some skill) or worker bees (denoting the sheer monotonous work of it all). Yes, that’s right, it costs *nothing*.

There’s a ninja in your IT department reading this right now.

(a) Kansas does have ninjas, they just look like corn.
(b) Honey bees are useful, just ask any plant — like the ones you eat.

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