@adlrocha - A Tale of Donkeys and Lions

In the end, are courageous lions and hardworking donkeys the ones who make things happen.

Today I want to share with you a fable I came across a few days ago. It has no “official” title, but I decided to call it “The Tale of Donkeys and Lions” (although I could easily have called it “Bullshit Jobs” in reference to David Graeber’s book):

brown donkey on green grass during daytime

“The lion opened a new company and hired donkeys to work. At first, everything was going great. The lion was managing, the donkeys were working and the company was growing in profit.

After a while, the lion realized that he had a lot of money but had no free time, so the lion decided to hire a manager. And he hired a bear as a manager to run the company.

As a professional manager, the bear sought out various reports so he could better manage the firm. So now the lion was enjoying himself, the bear was managing, and the donkeys were doing their jobs and writing reports for the bear.

After a while, the bear decided that he was spending too much time analyzing the reports, so he hired a wolf as a deputy, whose job would be to analyse and send more concise reports to the bear.

To show the bear how valuable he was, the wolf introduced new reports. Now, in addition to regular jobs and old reports, donkeys were also given new reports to fill, which did not make them happy, so they started grunting and had to stay longer to complete all the reports.

The bear saw that the morale in the company was declining, so he hired a fox to improve it. The fox conducted various surveys, organized courses and various events and gatherings to raise morale at the firm. The donkeys were already openly showing dissatisfaction as they had more and more work to do.

At the same time, the lion noticed that profit at the firm was going down, so he invited the bear to a meeting, at which they decided to fire half of the donkeys to reduce costs.

Sure we are not in place to fire donkeys, but some of us donkeys are reconsidering the point of the work…”

A hard problem to write about

Rise your hand if you feel identified with any of the characters of the fable. Now rise your hand again if you have experienced any of the situations described above and you think that these dynamics are more widespread than people think. Finally, rise the “F-U finger” of your right hand if you think this sick dynamics being adopted in our current corporate world are really messed up.

After reading this tale I was planning to write an extensive essay sharing my opinion of our current work culture, and why I think in many cases it is completely broken. I had half the publication written when I realized “what the hell am I doing? I don’t have a broad enough view of the problem to give lectures about our messed up work dynamics”. So I decided to share the tale and let all of you draw your own conclusions.

My learning from the story

What I haven’t been able to do is resist the temptation to share a few interesting conclusion I drew myself from the story:

  • Our work culture is broken. What is the end goal of a company (or a team)? To make money, increase its profits year after year, and grow. For this to happen, the objectives of all the members of the team or corporation have to be aligned. So what is the problem? That the objectives of lions, donkeys, wolves, foxes and bears are completely misaligned. While some of them have the courage to risk their net worth to build a company, and some have the tenacity work hard and keep it at float, others are just opportunistic characters aiming higher salaries, and more recognition at the expense of the company’s health. Our current corporate world have a really REALLY short-term mindset.

  • I get the point of lions and donkeys. I can even see the point of a few professional bears, but the moment you have to turn to wolves and foxes to help you, you know your company’s culture is broken, and the gears that made the company go well may have broken. Foxes and wolves add opacity to a company’s culture. They have their own personal objectives misaligned with the ones of the company. Nonetheless, they are the ones getting the high salaries and the recognition from bears. This is really twisted! A company grows and the lion is making more money through the work of donkeys. A sufficiently professional bear can easily manage donkeys without the need of useless wolves and foxes getting all the merit medals. The real value of a company resides in its donkeys.

  • We, donkeys, shouldn’t be afraid of extreme measures from foxes and wolves. They need us for things to work. Sure, they can find other donkeys to do our job, but they will eventually burn them as they did with us. There are always other options. More professional bears, teams with less wolves and foxes, and more fulfilling donkey work.

  • Donkeys shouldn’t be afraid of becoming lions, and should understand the role of bears, wolves and foxes in their teams in order for them not to break. For me, a good company is that with a courageous lion with a clear goal, and loyal, talented, and hardworking donkeys who believe in the lion’s goal. When the size of the company increases dramatically the lion may need some bears and wolves to help him make things work, but he should never forget that are well-managed donkeys (potentially by bears) who make the company what it is.

You liked the tale? A company’s goal is to make money, but the way it makes it is key for its success. As Yuval Noah Harari says, “in the end companies are just a fiction created by humans to enable massive cooperation between a high number of individuals”. So every company should really care about how good is for its individuals the “fiction” it creates.