How Bugs Can Teach Us Where We Do Our Best Work

Jim Collins, legendary business researcher and author, carried a book around with him early in his professional career called his “bug book.” It wasn’t about the bugs of the world or even the insects in his neighborhood, it was a journal for objectively studying himself as if he were “a bug named Jim.” How does a bug book help turn an ambitious professional into one of the most celebrated business thinkers of our time?

 

If he were studying actual bugs, he’d be noting where he found them, what they were doing, and if anything seemed interesting about what he saw. Ants carrying away dropped food on a city sidewalk would seem pretty normal, while a random ant on the dashboard of a car would clearly be out of place. The same logic applied to him. The bug named Jim did really well explaining complicated topics to groups of coworkers and felt really antsy (pun intended) in long, unfocused meetings.

 

Here’s where the bug book gets really useful. Unlike the ant, who can’t exactly decide where to place itself, Collins could use the information about how he responded to different situations and environments to know where to place more of his own time and focus. That self-reflective exercise is how he ended up teaching the business and entrepreneurship classes at Stanford and starting his deep research on world-class companies.

 

We can all strive to be self-aware of where we do our best work. We can use this knowledge to help others too. For Level 5 leaders, helping others to understand where they do their best work is the difference between just managing and truly leading. Imagine the impact putting the right people in the right seat on the right bus can have across an enterprise. 

 

It’s far better to be the ant on the sidewalk next to the fallen ice cream cone than the one who is lost on the dashboard. Anything we can do to get ourselves and others into that position only stands to make the world a slightly better place. 

 

Check out Jim Collins’ interview with Tim Ferriss for the bug book story and much more here.

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