Book notes: Management for Cannibals

Tags: books, management

Management for Cannibals (Asher) came highly recommended by a trusted colleague. I was excited to read it and did so during a short flight from San Jose to Portland.

It was a quick read, and occasionally almost elicited a chuckle. However, on the whole the book feels very weak – there is just not that much actual content in it. I am giving it 2 out of 5 stars and do not recommend it.

The author, writing under a pseudonym, is reportedly a former Microsoft employee. He (I’m pretty sure it’s a he, more on that later) describes life in the corporate world through a metaphorical cannibal tribe. The book centers on what it considers the main goal of a cannibal: avoid becoming food. It is more of a satire on surviving the corporate world than advice on management.

As satire goes, I didn’t find this one all that funny. Some stories got close to prompting a chuckle, but nothing was witty enough to overcome my discomfort at the deep cynicism that underlies the book. Whatever practical advice there is in this book can be summarized as “everyone is looking out for themselves, don’t trust anyone, always remember that a job is just to pay the bills”.

If the metaphor was funnier, maybe that would have saved the book for me. But the meh jokes made the extreme cynicism even less palatable. The author goes as far as repeating a well-known Solzhenitsyn quote as wisdom appropriate for corporate life (“Don’t trust, don’t fear, don’t beg”). Equating life in a concentration camp to working for the likes of Microsoft did not strike me as funny.

On top of all that, the book sounds like it’s written by a man of rather traditional views on life. He describes the ruthless realities of the cannibal tribe as driven by needs such as paying a mortgage and feeding your family, and in 135 pages never once does the author use a female pronoun. (I suppose this could have been written by a woman of very traditional and gendered views. But even in descriptions of cannibal families, the only members referred to are “brothers” – no sisters nor mothers or daughters mentioned.)

To give you a feel for the tone of the book, here is a representative quote:

Granted, most people don’t look like cannibals. Moreover, they were not born as cannibals. With rare exceptions, men are not bloodthirsty, cynical, flesh-eating predators. And this is your chance, because you are neither. What makes them predators are the bare necessities of life: the need to feed their families, the need to save for retirement, the need to put their kids through college, and the need to pay their mortgages. Hey, you’ve got these needs too, don’t you?

On the positive side, this is a super-quick read (about 90 minutes), and it did get me wondering if my colleagues are really this cynical and self-interested. Maybe I should be less averse to dining on them.