Key business lessons can come from unlikely places. One man found them by spending six years on a bench in his back yard.
Michael O’Malley, Ph.D. says that beehives are the “original sustainable enterprises” that go back millennia, and they have a lot to teach us. Based on his observations of a bee hive in his back yard, O’Malley wrote a book, “The Wisdom of the Bees,” to share 25 lessons on “what the hive can teach business about leadership, efficiency, and growth.” The author uses the bees and their industry as a delightful vehicle to convey a robust canon of principles for running a successful enterprise.
As a social psychologist, management consultant, and executive editor of Yale University Press, O’Malley has created a uniquely eclectic list of 25 lessons, demonstrating his appreciation of organizational development, corporate social responsibility, and design, for companies seeking to maximize profits.
To set the context, O’Malley credits the bees with running a big business pollinating “ninety major commercial crops, the equivalent of approximately $15 billion in agricultural production and one of every three mouthfuls of our food consumption.”
O’Malley’s favorite lessons are 22 and 24:
- #22: Do good by doing well. O’Malley noted to me that bees were at the forefront of the movement to replenish, conserve, and reuse. “While collecting pollen, bees pollinate flowers, replenishing the very stock they are harvesting. They also conserve, by never extracting every drop of nectar or speck of pollen from flowers in order to ensure that flowers can produce in the future. And bees will pick the honeycomb clean after the farmer has removed the honey, since reusing processed goods is more energy-efficient.” Additionally, the honey that bees produce is used for food and drink in celebrations that bring people together.
- #24: Create beautiful, functional spaces. “The hexagon, the shape of a beehive, is the best way to divide a surface. It uses the least materials, and it is mathematically proven to be the best, most efficient way to fill a space. It’s also an extremely sturdy design. And the hexagon is a beautiful design for a workspace; in fact, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a honeycomb house.”
My personal favorite is 25:
- #25: Give people something to care about. O’Malley explains that “Hive or business, a group can cut through a lot of clutter if bound together by a common goal and grand purpose in which they are trying to accomplish something special.”
Working towards a greater purpose is the magic that most nonprofits have; we call it the mission. The mission drives the staff, volunteers, board of directors, and donors to overcome great challenges to accomplish extraordinary feats.
The lessons of the bees include leadership succession planning, creating an ongoing measurement and feedback loop with the outside environment, and valuing all members of the team, among many others. As I read the lessons, I thought about nonprofit boards, as well as business and nonprofit enterprises.
Check out all 25 lessons, and please share your favorites.