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Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up

Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up

by Stanley Bing

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Sit down. Breathe deep. This is the last business book you will ever need. For in these pages, Stanley Bing solves the ultimate problem of your working life: How to manage the boss.

The technique is simple . . . as simple as throwing an elephant. All it takes is the proper state of mind, a step-by-step plan, and a great leap of faith. This humble guide


Sit down. Breathe deep. This is the last business book you will ever need. For in these pages, Stanley Bing solves the ultimate problem of your working life: How to manage the boss.

The technique is simple . . . as simple as throwing an elephant. All it takes is the proper state of mind, a step-by-step plan, and a great leap of faith. This humble guide provides all these and more. It is Zen that enables one to take an object of enormous weight and size and mold it in one's grasp like a ball of Silly Putty. For senior management, in truth, is the silliest putty of them all.

This comprehensive course walks budding business bodhisattvas through basic skills needed to provide the simple elephant handling that makes everyday life possible, including but not limited to the primary task of following along after the elephant with a little broom and dustpan. Serious students will then move to intermediate steps, from Polishing the Elephant's Tusks to Hiding from the Elephant When It Has Been Drinking and Feels Quite Nasty. Beyond this level lies the land of the practiced Zen masters, culminating in the ability to leverage and then throw the now-weightless elephant--and even play catch with it at corporate retreats.

If What Would Machiavelli Would Do? was the meanest business book since the Renaissance, Throwing the Elephant provides the yang to that yin. Because sometimes you've got to be selfless, compassionate, and completely empty to get the job done.

Stanley Bing is a columnist for Fortune magazine and the author of What Would Machiavelli Do? and Lloyd: What Happened, a novel. By day, he works for a gigantic multinational conglomerate whose identity is one of the worst-kept secrets in business.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
The elephant referred to in this title of this witty, subversive, and joyfully manipulative little book is your boss, the powerful but lumbering and self-involved authority figure that Fortune columnist Stanley Bing believes is comfortably ensconced in your company's corner office. Bing begins his manual on the care and feeding of these "business elephants" with the admonition that people don't get to choose their bosses; like the weather or gravity, bosses exist as laws of nature that exceed the control of the mere mortal mosquitoes that hover about them. If you can't pick your boss, you must then learn to do the second-best thing, which Bing defines as coping with, mollifying, and perhaps even taming the beast to whom your fortunes are tied. And just how is that feat to be managed? What Bing offers is a tongue-in-cheek version of Zen thought that resembles nothing so much as the philosophy Machiavelli would have come up with if he'd meditated under the banyan tree in place of Buddha. Consider this quote from early in the book: "Zen will enable you to take an object of enormous weight and size and mold it in your grasp like a ball of Silly Putty. For senior management is, in truth, the silliest putty of them all." This book is filled with similar comments as well as phony pie charts, chapters with such titles such as "The Six-Petaled Flower of Bogus Atonement," and bar graphs that document the relative inappropriateness of uttering certain words at important meetings ("budget shortfall" is the most heinous topic you can broach, with "earwax" a not too distant second). Without too much effort, Bing manages to skewer new age truisms, PowerPoint presentations, and business culture in general. But beneath the fun, there's a real message here -- your boss matters, and you'd better learn how to deal with that.

Throwing the Elephant is likely to become the kind of book that people start reading because it makes them laugh and end up giving to their friends because there's so much to learn from it. While it's a little lopsided to see the boss/employee dynamic as exclusively a power-based relationship, there's still a lot of wisdom about corporate life packed into Bing's petite book, which, like the "Dilbert" cartoons, succeeds in suggesting aspects of workplace culture that almost everyone can relate to. Now, of course, someone needs to write a book for the elephants, telling them how to deal with those pesky mosquitoes who keep buzzing around them, clamoring for attention and drinking up their lifeblood. (Sunil Sharma)

Publishers Weekly
In a spoof of just about every career advice and management-by-metaphor book ever created, Bing (What Would Machiavelli Do?) delivers a Zen-like guide to managing your boss. The premise? Here's what Buddha would tell you if he were your personal career coach. A book juxtaposing faux-Zen advice with embarrassing corporate situations (e.g., how to handle a drunken boss) is almost guaranteed to be funny. Bing, "an ultra-senior officer at an elephantine corporation," has plenty of firsthand anecdotes to tell, and he supplements them with stories about some of the notoriously toughest bosses on the planet, like Martha Stewart and Citigroup's Sandy Weill. There are chapters on critiquing your boss ("any bitter pill of criticism one offers an elephant must be buried within a vast tub of cream cheese") and "facing the angry elephant" (when you're to blame for your boss's anger, "breathe deeply. Breath is life"). Despite the amusing anecdotes, though, Bing's narrative can become a bit wearying if one reads more than a couple of chapters in one sitting. However, if an employee only breaks out Bing's book when the elephant is having a particularly bad couple of weeks, enlightenment is certain. (Mar. 25) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Bing (What Would Machiavelli Do?) has written a clever book on how to manage elephants, a.k.a. bosses. According to the author, "only the power of Zen contemplation will result in a happy business life for the subordinate who yearns for understanding, control, and enlightenment. It is the practice of Business Zen that will enable you, in the end, after much trial and failure, to throw the elephant who is your boss." Through case studies and guidelines, Bing discusses steps to achieving control over the elephant, with such practical chapters as "Greeting the Elephant," "Rejoicing with the Elephant," and "Getting a Leash on the Elephant." Here, for instance, Bing's advice on greetings: "A quick handshake and formal greeting in an elevator is appropriate. A gushing invocation of lifelong admiration for the elephant is not." Witty and thought-provoking, this imaginative and unique work is recommended for public libraries and practitioners and students of business. Lucy Heckman, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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7.04(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.73(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Four or Five Truths

The incomparable lion-roar of the doctrine
Shatters the brains of the one hundred kinds of animals.
Even the king of elephants will run away, forgetting his pride;
Only the heavenly dragon listens calmly, with pure delight.

Zen text

You only get what you are big enough to take.

Jimmy Hoffa Jr.

The ways to find one's way to Enlightenment are many. There is prayer and fasting, and some try that to great effect, but that road is severe, particularly to people with electronic scheduling software and a lot of business lunches as part of the general requirements of their jobs, not to mention drinks after work, and pretty soon fasting, if not prayer, is out the window.

The Buddha was quite clear on this subject: if Enlightenment was reserved for those who don't have to work for a living, it would be a pretty unfair deal all the way around.

The Buddha said it, and the scriptures make it clear over and over. In work lies Enlightenment just as surely as in wandering around in a bathrobe with a bowl of rice in one hand and a stick in the other. One need not remove oneself from the world to transcend it. One must use the tools that are put in one's path. Perhaps a tale might elucidate this point.

One morning the Buddha stopped by a barbershop for a little touch-up. The barber was a voluble and philosophical fellow, as many of that profession tend to be, and he regaled the Buddha with a host of meaninglessanecdotes and flippant observations in which the Buddha had no interest.

At the end of an especially broad and runny river of drivel, Buddha closed his eyes and took one of those deep, cleansing breaths that afterward became such an important part of his teaching. The barber at last noticed this and set down his scissors thoughtfully.

“Oh, Buddha,” he said into the gigantic void that was parked, sighing profoundly, in the chair. “I notice that I have been speaking without stop for well unto twenty minutes and you have said not a word. Is there something you wish me to infer from this?”

The Buddha smiled, and the Buddha's smile was indeed a beautiful thing to see, shedding radiance all over the place. “Yes, my friend,” the Buddha said. “Your job is to cut my hair. My job is to sit and have it cut. You see how close to perfection we might be if we each accomplished our duty without distractions.”

The barber was immediately struck by the truth of this and miraculously said not a word for the rest of the haircut. Buddha got to read the new issue of Car & Driver and left a nice tip.

You see? That's how it works. Everybody does what he or she is supposed to do without a lot of fuss and noise and emotion. Things get lighter. The lighter they get, the more enlightened you become. Pretty soon, nothing makes any particular difference. Except the work.

In the tree, the nightingale sings;
What else should he do?
It takes but three
To line the cooking pot!

Bo Ho
A.D. 342

A steelworker makes steel, and in that action lies his Enlightenment. An accountant loses himself in his rows of numbers and may thus find the pathway to his oneness with the Universe. For others, the road to wisdom lies in two frequent states of being: sitting and silence. Mostly in meetings.

Sitting. And silence. Both are at the heart of Zen. They are also at the heart of the work we do.

Think about it. We are in a meeting. We sit. We are silent. At times, true, there is a verbal duty for us to perform, so we speak. And then, others speak. And while they speak? We are silent.

On our way to work, we sit on the train or in our car or we stand staring into the near middle distance like a cow in the field. We are going from here to there. What are we doing? Nothing. In that nothing lies everything.

We receive our mail, both electronic and paper, throughout the day. While we evaluate and respond to it, we sit. We are silent. At times, true, others enter our domain and require speech or reaction from us, but when they are gone, we return to our task and while we do so? We sit. And are silent.

We sit on a transcontinental airliner, traveling for four or five hours for a meeting whose meat will occupy perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. We stare out the window of the plane, trying to decide whether to watch the in-flight entertainment. We sit and are silent.

Between planes, we watch the inescapable CNN feed on the television that is bolted to the ceiling. A portion of our minds is taken up with the interesting story of the dancing bear that was adopted by a family of Bosnian dwarfs. But inside, as we sit with less than 10 percent of ourselves engaged, somewhere within, we are silent.

In that silence, there is liberation. There is peace. There is an end of desire, passion, and suffering.

We read papers that will shape our destiny. The Wall Street Journal thinks our industry is spiraling down into the toilet.

Our spirits rebel at what we read, be it newspaper, memo, or E-mail. Inside, we are a riot of feeling. But stop. Look within. Is there not something in there that really doesn't give a shit? Of course there is. In that place, there is silence. There is the Buddha.

There is the answer to the management and control of elephants both large and small.

Why, look. Here comes one now into our little corner of the village. “Owoooo!” It raises its trunk heavenward and lets out a trumpeting cry. Perhaps it dances around the area...

Throwing the Elephant . Copyright © by Stanley Bing. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Stanley Bing is a columnist for Fortune magazine and the bestselling author of Crazy Bosses, What Would Machiavelli Do?, Throwing the Elephant, Sun Tzu Was a Sizzy, 100 Bullshit Jobs . . . And How to Get Them, and The Big Bing, as well as the novels Lloyd: What Happened and You Look Nice Today. By day he is an haute executive in a gigantic multinational corporation whose identity is one of the worst-kept secrets in business.

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