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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cartoons Reveal Business Savvy




NEW YORK -- Who will emerge as the key source of wisdom on management issues in our brave new Internet world? Will it be another gifted, dignified guru like Peter Drucker? Or someone vastly different? Someone fast, erratic and perhaps even a bit feathery? Someone like - BEEP! BEEP! - the Road Runner?


You may remember the Road Runner from the cartoon of the same name starring that agile, zig-zagging, joyful bird who consistently outsmarts and outruns Wile E. Coyote, a single-minded predator whose one mission in life is to serve himself a big dish of Road Runner stew. The two are now the subjects of a new book, "BEEP! BEEP! Competing in the Age of the Road Runner" (Warner Books, $23.95). The authors, Chip Bell and Oren Harari, tell us that "coyote" companies and leaders may have solid qualities - strategic thinking, focus, persistence. But according to Bell, a consultant, and Harari, a professor, they won't survive against "road-runner" companies and their leaders, who operate on openness, speed, improvisation and even fun.


"Coyotes never learn from mistakes, road runners never stop learning on the run," the authors say.


Wacky though it sounds, the metaphor is a good one. You may recall from ninth-grade literature class that metaphors use colorful terms to equate things that may be essentially different, but obviously have some important features in common. In business as in poetry, it can be a way to get across a complex notion in an entertaining, compact and creative way.


Take the Disney film "The Lion King" - it's about little Simba, heir to the jungle throne, who runs away from his responsibilities. Debra Comer, professor at the Frank Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, sees connections between Simba's story and the business world, specifically relating to issues of leadership - and she shares these connections with her classes.


After viewing the film, students discuss the personality traits and flaws of leaders, the consequences of running away from problems, how enemies undermine you, how friends can help and hinder you, how subordinates can develop overdependence on the leader and not take responsibility themselves, about how you have to overcome self-doubt before you can lead. Comer, who taught "The Lion King" before she had her now 1-year-old twins, even delivered a paper to a professional management group on the leadership lessons she has extrapolated from the film.


Of course, managers have always looked to metaphors for leadership inspiration, though often of a less endearing nature than the Road Runner and the Lion King. Think of all the mileage we've already gotten out of "Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun." And surely that Rambo/warrior genre is alive and well, too. Just look at the titles that crossed my desk recently: "Corps Business - The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines," by David H. Freedman (Harper Business, $26); and "Business Is Combat - A Fighter Pilot's Guide to Winning in Modern Business Warfare," by James D. Murphy, likely out in March (Regan Books).


But I'm sensing a new element, too, leaning toward a gentler management style that promotes synergy over combat. I think of all our working moms - those masters of multi-tasking - who might easily combine their own personal development with story time for their kids by looking into these titles: "Goldilocks on Management - 27 Revisionist Fairy Tales for Serious Managers," by Gloria Gilbert Mayer and Thomas Mayer (Amacom, $21.95); and "Seuss-isms for Success: Insider Tips on Economic Health from the Good Doctor," by Dr. Seuss and Tom Peters (Random House, $6.99).


As companies shift into Internet gear, managers may well be wise to ask their staff for help in the metaphor department, especially when it comes to redefining new roles - their own and their company's. Why not look for stories and characters - from any source - that best capture the essence of the culture of your company or department?


Think of who and what you will need to become to compete in the new world of e-business. Do the old models still work for you? Or will you need to become a whole different kind of organization, with a new visionary role model - one who quite possibly goes "Beep Beep," instead of "Bang Bang"?