Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

What Is The Lesson About Work From the Fable of the Scorpion and the Frog?

Chapter 4: How To Trust At Work – The Scorpion, the Fox, or the Wolf  Part 7

I classify Vijay’s nemesis, the scientist, as a Scorpion.  (See the table at the end of the last post for more). “Scorpion” is taken from the following fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

The scorpion asks the frog to bear him across the river on his back.  “You must think me a fool,” cries the frog.  “You’ll sting me and I’ll die.” “Never fear,” replies the scorpion.  “If I sting you, we both will drown.”  The frog relents, and takes the scorpion on his back.  Halfway across the river, he feels a burning pain and the onset of paralysis.  “Why?” he croaks just before going under. “I couldn’t help it,” replies the scorpion.  “It’s my nature.[i]” 

The Scorpion at work has a single-minded vision of the world.  Just as the scorpion in the story can’t help itself when it stings the frog, the Scorpion at work can’t do anything other than act according to their vision, even when it is potentially self-defeating.  When you work with a Scorpion, your happiness or needs are not on his or her radar.  Chances are, sooner or later you will be stung.

Vijay’s Dr. Scorpion believed that her collaboration with the academic was the key to success for the product.  Without regard for budget, regulations, or protocol, she made it happen.  When things started to go awry, Dr. Scorpion took a significant risk, a bluff that seemed to disregard potential consequences for herself or Vijay.  She could have taken a conciliatory tack, blaming the inventory issue on a misunderstanding or honest mistake. Of course this would have required that she admit that she made a mistake, something Scorpions are loth to do in part because they rarely, if ever, think they have made a mistake.  Instead, she gave dishonest answers and let Vijay take the consequences.

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[i] John Malkovich refers to the fable at the end of the movie Dangerous Liaisons as he betrays the love of his life.  For more, see what Wikipedia has to say.

Is She A Scorpion, a Fox, or a Wolf? A New Paradigm For Who To Trust At Work

Busting Your Corporate Idol Chapter 4 Part 6

In last week’s posts, we met Vijay, the Indian mench who complied with an innocent-sounding request and lost his job as a result. From the perspective of many years later, Vijay told me if he had it to do over again, he would have been able to avoid the situation completely. Vijay learned by experience, and now has a story in his head that helps him make better decisions about who to trust.

I heard many similar stories doing interviews for the book. I started seeing patterns; certain types of people kept coming up. I soon found myself characterizing them according to animals from fables and parables.

Fables and parables have survived thousands of years because they communicate true insights about people, morality, and values. I call the people in the workplace who have a disproportionate impact on trust decisions the Scorpion, the Fox, and the Wolf.  The three categories are drawn from the parable of the Fox and the Wolf, and the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog, both of which are easy-to-remember stories that teach important lessons about misplaced trust.  If you can understand where someone fits in the “SFW” framework, you will have an insight into their priorities and perhaps their underlying values.

The Fox, Scorpion and Wolf behave in a predictable way that reflects their underlying priorities, and by proxy their value system.  Do they put people first?  Do they put the company first?  Do they put themselves first?  If you know someone’s priorities, it becomes much easier predict what they will do, and give you a leg up as you decide whether to trust them or not.  Next post we’ll take a fresh look at Vijay’s nemesis the scientist.  Based on the table below, which animal is she?

Motivated by Strength Weakness Suggested Approach
Scorpion Strict set of ideas Execution & vision Inflexible, polarizing Avoid or exit situation
Fox Self advancement Talking, motivating Poor execution Force them to do more, talk less
Wolf Getting it done for self, company, ideas Execution, relationships Too trusting Cooperate, partner

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