The Beekeeper: Pollinating Your Organization for Transformative Growth. By Katie P. Desiderio and Michael G. Frino. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2023.
Here is the second part of our review (the first part is here), which we repeat is written at the personal request of the authors. We mention that just in case the authors have lawyers. So where were we?
Running a growing company. That is how Catherine was spending her time when her children opened up a PowerPoint presentation to explain to her what they wanted to do for the obligatory family vacation.
Stop and take a moment to pity these two apparently perfect daughters. They open up a PowerPoint presentation to explain what they want to do on vacation. We are faced with one of two possibilities: either the kids think that PowerPoint is the only kind of communication that will get through to Mommy, or their brains are so completely washed in the grey water of business-school jargon that they themselves think in PowerPoint presentations. Should we call Children and Youth Services?
But of course the children are not real children. They are catalysts, as the MBAs might say. They make stuff happen in the book, but our narrator Catherine has already made it clear in the second chapter—the one about her perfect life today—that her family exists only to further her career.
Helping organizations optimize performance through their people is what I love to do. The return on investment is so worth it. There has been a huge buzz within the organizations I am working with, and differentiated behaviors are taking flight, which are transforming individuals and teams. The surrealness of these transformations makes me smile.… I have my family to thank for all this work—none of which has anything to do with running my growing essential oil company. Sometimes I feel stretched thin and even overwhelmed, but my family is the bees knees, and I have them to thank for the impact I am making.
Several observations here. First, Dr. Boli’s Markdown editor has correctly pointed out that “bees” in “bees knees” ought to be possessive, and the software may therefore apply for a position as a copy editor at John Wiley and Sons. Possessives are difficult for our authors. Second, we are not sure what “differentiated behaviors” are, but it probably means we can distinguish what one team member is doing from what another is doing. If one is chopping wood while another is playing the banjo, those are differentiated behaviors. But we suppose that if we have to ask what differentiated behaviors are, we are not the target audience for this book. Third, we are leaving the whole thing about “surrealness” alone, because we can’t do everything for our readers, and the authors have just handed them a build-your-own-joke kit. Fourth, we note that our narrator thanks her family for the work she is doing. Specifically, what she is doing is spending all her time away from her family. How does her family feel about that? Apparently they encourage her.
And about that essential-oils business. It is growing. We learned in the second chapter, the one that takes place after our heroine has accumulated buckets of wisdom, that it is growing. But in the next chapter, the one that takes place before she has tasted the first sweet drop of intellectual honey from the bees, it is already growing. She is “running a growing company,” “running our growing company,” etc. “Our company, Essentially Proximal, was in the diffusing and essential oil business and was growing faster than it could adapt.” So the problem she has to solve, the thing that triggers her personal development, is too much success.
Essentially Proximal? All right, we get the Essentially part, but Proximal? This is our first warning that the word proximal means something very important. But it is another of those buzzwords we just have to know. If we don’t know what proximal means, and why it’s different from what the dictionary says it means, we obviously haven’t been to business school, and why are we reading this book?
At any rate, the perfect kids have a list of things they want to do on a farm, so it’s off to the farm in Iowa run by that guy from Chapter 1, the MBA beekeeper. How did they find out about his farm? How did they choose it? Don’t know. But it’s the H. Ives Family Farm. H. Ives. Get it? Our heroine doesn’t get it till page 116 of a 146-page story. “How had I not made the connection before?”
Catherine is worrying about her essential-oils business, because it is too successful too fast, and “our employees felt that our company values of recognition and connection were nonexistent between managers and employees.” A grumpy manager might tell them, “Your problem is that the things you value are meaningless abstractions.” But Catherine is really worried.
So, again, about this essential-oils business. Why essential oils?
Here is a fair example of how much effort our authors put into establishing the essential-oils part of the background.
We ventured outside to take in the atmosphere. It was quiet. It was peaceful. I could smell eucalyptus, which seemed to be coming from an herb garden not too far away. This was one of our best-selling oils.
Eucalyptus is a tree. Eucalyptus oil generally comes from the Blue Gum, Eucalyptus globulus, which is hardy in USDA zones 8–11. Iowa is in zones 4 and 5, with a tiny sliver of zone 6 in the extreme southeast. You are not going to find blue gum in an herb garden in Iowa, because it is a tree and because it does not grow in Iowa.
This is just a stupid little mistake. But it is indicative. The thing our heroine’s company actually sells is so uninteresting to our authors that they could not be bothered to do a thirty-second Google search for some plausible background. They could not imagine anyone being interested in essential oils. The only things real people are interested in are being cultural transformation stewards and optimizing performance, and the whole essential-oils thing came in because the business had to be about something—and probably because it had to be about something that sounded like a woman would be the CEO of it. It seems to Dr. Boli that many real businesses run this way: they sell stuff, but the stuff is only there to give business-school graduates an excuse to leverage their core agilities and become performant. It is a dull necessity, the way a stone foundation is a dull necessity if you want to build a Gothic cathedral. If you work at one of those businesses, and you are happy there, this will be your favorite book.
Off to the farm, and now the book drops into a set formula, which means that we don’t have to dwell too much on most of the main body of the book. (So many readers are puffing out deep sighs of relief right now that weather patterns have changed across the North American continent.) In each chapter, our heroine learns a lesson that can be summed up in a trite little platitude, and then she emails her newfound wisdom to the Leadership Team back at her company, who are blown away by it.
She begins to learn about bees from the Beekeeper, and at the end of the chapter she emails her Leadership Team:
Dear Leadership Team:
The hive is at the core of learning and growth, and bees provide the nourishment for all things to grow. Bees work together and are focused on the same mission.
Meanwhile, back at Essentially Proximal headquarters, they’re asking each other, “Did she, like, hit ‘send’ accidentally or something?” But that’s not in the book, because our narrator isn’t aware of it.
The learning continues, and the emails pile up.
The hive must Be Nourished to continue to thrive…
Be Vulnerable with your team. This will accelerate your personal growth. Like the forager bee, you’ll also pollinate the environment around you, providing the food needed for others to grow.
Back at headquarters, the Leadership Team have come together in the break room for an informal discussion.
“She sounds like she’s high,” one of them says.
“Should one of us call and see if she’s okay?” asks another.
A third one adds, “I’ve been updating my resumé—you know, just in case.”
A fourth says, “Well, if she’s going through some sort of, you know, thing, we’d probably better humor her.”
The book goes on, and the nuggets of wisdom pile up so high that we were looking around for a pitchfork, but eventually all good things must end. The vacation is over, and the lessons are learned. Catherine discovers that she has become a Be Keeper, a custodian of the mysteries of existence itself.
Then she goes back to her company to find that the whole office is decorated with her inspirational emails, made into posters with bee imagery.
“The team thanked me for the quotes and said that it was helpful and gave them new perspective on how we could work together.”
We notice that the team picked their words very, very carefully.
The team learned that they had to Be Proximal, and we are happy to report that, as far as we know, they are still just as proximal as all get out.
Now follows a section that purports to tell us what was going on back at the office while Catherine was off getting high on life, although (as we have mentioned) we have our own private opinions about that. This is also the part of the book where the lessons of the previous chapters are pounded in with a club, in case the sledgehammer the book had been using up to this point was too precise. “We hope you enjoyed reading The Beekeeper. As a reader, you probably caught onto the symbolism between the Beekeeper and transforming a culture and becoming a Be Keeper.”
If the author were speaking in a lecture hall, this is where Dr. Boli would be sorely tempted to shout from the back of the room, “No! Really? I must have missed that! Could you explain it to me again?”
So we get some little vignettes of how the leadership team applied their Be Mindsets to the problem of existence, and the book is over.
And then comes the index, and believe it or not, the index is probably the most entertaining part of the book. It would be an amusing parlor game to read a section from the index and then have the players guess what kind of book it indexes. Here is the entire P section:
Pain, perception, 109
Patience, 66–70, 107
rich returns, 69, 70
Personal growth (acceleration), vulnerability (impact), 55, 135
Pigs, feeding, 59
Pollen, spreading (beekeeper responsibility), 110
PowerPoint, usage, 17, 29
farm experience, 17
seeds, planting, 6
Proximal Hive, welcoming, 141
No entry for “Proximal (meaning of in business jargon).” Did you know, by the way, that there are people who specialize in nothing but indexing, as if it were a valuable skill or something? Their clients must be idiots, because word processors have indexing functions built in, so anybody can make an index.
And the index is the end of the book. Now all we are left with is a bundle of lingering implications, along with a strange craving for Lavoris. The lingering implications deserve an article of their own. You’re on your own for the mouthwash.