The Squirrel Effect
by Nan S. Russell
An industrious black-tailed ground squirrel has his home beneath a stump not
far from my office window. I’ve been watching him squirrel away provisions for
winter. He reminds me of people I’ve worked with.
Starting his journey by standing tall on the stump, the squirrel hurriedly
looks side to side. When he’s certain it is safe he leaps into the grass,
jumping then running to a group of nuts nestled beneath a medium-size pine.
There he briefly pauses to make his choice. Selecting one pine nut in his teeth,
he darts back to the stump with a run-jump motion. Once again standing tall, he
looks for competitors or predators before quickly popping his prized provision
into his nest and beginning the process all over again.
Like that squirrel, people often hide what they consider important to their
personal survival in the corporate world. It’s called information. Hording bits
and pieces, they act as if information alone is a work-life sustaining nutrient.
The more information nuggets they have, the safer or more powerful they think
they’ll be. And while those nuggets might help someone survive in a corporate
culture where information is a bartered commodity, long term it won’t help them
thrive. Here’s why.
They’re locked in old thinking about power and success, seeing them as the
ability to render authority or influence over someone or something. They think
information gives them control. But rules are changing. People don’t trust
people who want to control them, who want to horde what’s needed for everyone’s
survival, or who play a corporate game where there can be just one or two
winners. People withhold their ideas and discretionary efforts in cultures like
There’s a new power emerging in the work realm called trust. Trust is
critical in an era where intellectual property is the competitive edge for both
companies and countries. Companies need the best ideas they can get to prosper,
and the best people passionately working to make them happen. Results of human
intellect will bring 21st century profits to the bottom line; technological and
scientific breakthroughs to the world. They’ll also bring personal satisfaction
and meaningful work to those involved.
But to do that, information must be shared. Shared information multiples as
it reminds us of the Italian proverb: All the brains are not in one head. Here
people realize lighting the next candle doesn’t diminish the flame of the
original one, and information is critical in lighting ideas, opening
possibilities and creating new horizons for themselves and their companies.
If you want to be winning at working, realize your power is in trusting and
doing, not in just knowing and certainly not in hording. Trust builds a larger
universe of relationships where a big idea comes from two smaller ones, a shared
problem brings imaginative solutions, and a common vision produces uncommon
results. Like the carbon atom that has the capacity to form graphite or
diamonds, so do you. You will create more work diamonds operating with trust and
eliminating the squirrel effect.
(c) 2004 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.
Nan Russell is a writer, columnist, small business owner and
online instructor. She is currently writing her first book,
Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared. For more information or to subscribe
to her eColumn, visit Nan's web site at