Fox Bytes 20 – the animal analogy issue

Flying cow art by the legendary Barry Downard. Used with permission. See more of his work here.


Like cattle to the slaughter

Nothing says you’re successful in business like a corner office with a view. For everyone else, there’s the bullpen. And you don’t want to be in the bullpen.

Successful startups usually begin with everyone packed into a small office space. That’s not bad at first because everyone knows everyone else, and you’re all excited to be part of something new, agile, and exciting.

But as companies grow, staff get bigger and a corporate culture takes hold, an ‘altogether’ office space is not ideal. The result is a contained workspace packed with desks, with no separating walls, and where everyone knows when a colleague has opened their lunchbox to eat an egg mayonnaise sandwich.

Such a space has a nickname: a ‘bullpen’, and they’re common in newsrooms and brokerage firms.

Companies consider bullpens an economical use of space, but psychologists worry that bullpens strip staff of their identities, and simply remind workers of where they are in the corporate food chain. 

Bullpens are not known for developing mental health.

So the bullpen is a game, where companies try and squeeze the most economical use out of their office staff, who in turn try their best not to get minced in the process, all the time gazing towards the pastures of the corner office with a view.

Image: HuffPost newsroom in New York on April 25, 2017. (Photo by Damon Dahlen/HuffPost)


Shifting the blame

If you’re ever asked in a dinnertime quiz what animal you’d like to be, you don’t want to be a scapegoat.

The term dates back to the Christian Old Testament, when two goats would be selected for sacrifice by a priest, but one would be assigned the sins of the nation and then set free to wander in the wilderness forever, carrying those sins. 

That may not sound altogether all that bad, but it was expected that the scapegoat would eventually starve to death. 

They probably didn’t. In all likelihood, they were later caught, killed and eaten by those who didn’t care for rituals.

Today a scapegoat is an individual or group – usually vulnerable – who is blamed, normally publicly and without reason or their consent, for something bad that has happened to others. They end up carrying the ‘sins’.

A scapegoat could be, say, a mid-level manager, fired, through no fault of their own, following a corporate scandal where the CEO should have stepped down. It could also be an identifiable minority group – Hitler made the Jews the scapegoat for the collapse of the German economy after the First World War.

The public nature of making a scapegoat ensures they are dehumanised – that somehow makes the other humans feel better.

The scapegoat – the unfortunate player in a game when things go wrong.

Image: Alberto Ruggieri/Getty Images 


It hurts the most when you least expect it

Strikes are orderly affairs. They may not seem so – scenes of shouting and waving placards suggest otherwise. They are also predictable. South Africa even has a ‘strike season’.

They are predictable because they usually come at the end of lengthy negotiations between unions – who represent the workers – and employers. 

They are the last resort of unions who feel frustrated at what they see as the unwillingness of employers to be fair. Dates are then set for the strike, plans made, and rules for striking followed. It’s all very legal and proper.

The same is not true for ‘wildcat strikes’. 

These suddenly spring up, seemingly out of nowhere because they haven’t followed proper procedure. For that reason, they are usually illegal, and so employers have a right to fire those who take part.

As the name suggests wildcat strikes are unpredictable and unnerving. You certainly don’t want one on your front garden! But if you do come across one, you have no alternative but to take notice.

A wildcat strike is a serious move by strikers to sow panic and disorder, but it’s also spurred on by a deep dissatisfaction, even anger, and a preparedness to suffer punishment for making a statement.

Image: Adje’s Fotosoep

[These articles originally appeared in Issue 20 of Fox Bytes (you can view it here) in the week of 15 October 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. Fox Bytes is published weekly to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]