Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a tremendous fondness for dogs. It started before I was old enough to know what fondness meant. I grew up with dogs in the family and distinctly remember our last family dog because I found it dying in a field we rented to a local farmer. The farmer had shot Sasha because unfortunately Irish Red Setters are prone to go vampire like around sheep. He couldn’t afford to lose a lamb, so we lost our family dog.
I then revisited the idea of dogs with my ex wife and we got an amazing dog called Ilsa - a Weimaraner. I went with the theory that you end up looking like your dog, so I shot high. Ilsa was stunning but Ilsa also recognized that not everything was right in our family home. She became quite an anxious dog. They say that dogs only dream in the western world because we put so much stress on them. The relationship ended in an acrimonious divorce and part of that acrimony was letting Ilsa stay with my ex. California was the right place for her to stay and apparently she responds well to acupuncture.
The pain of saying goodbye to her was somewhat alleviated by a lucky chance of a new girlfriend who had an amazing ridgeback called Gemma. Luckily for me Gemma seemed to take to me really well. We had incredible fun together and became the best of buddies. Then of course, I screwed up that relationship and lost my new best friend in the process.
My most recent dog was Dolly - a German Short Haired Pointer. A dog that arrived by air crate at Newark as a puppy and jumped in to my and Sally’s life with full gusto. We got a car to fit Dolly. We bought a house upstate for Dolly. She would run free with me in the forests in Mass as I rode my mountain bike in the summer and cross country skied in the winter. I would never see her until I fell over and there she would be - by my side and checking I was ok before running off again. She was an amazing dog.
Unfortunately, it became clear to us that Dolly hated the city and we live in The City - Manhattan. The upstate house was the place she wanted to be and we started to feel cruel forcing her back into the city at the end of every weekend. Fortunately, a fortuitous move out to San Francisco for work changed Dolly’s life for the better. She loved the beach. I took her into work everyday - yes I readily admit I’ve been a fan of doggy love at work. Things were looking great except Sally and I didn’t really take to San Francisco. Eventually, we chose to make the move home to New York and the question of Dolly’s next move was very front of mind.
Like all things in life - at least in my life - circumstances played out in our favor with a chance meeting on the beach. A guy knew someone who also had a GSP and was looking for another GSP for his dog to have as company. It got better because this gentleman had a 20 acre vineyard - all fenced in – which meant we didn’t have to worry about Dolly running in front of fast cars, a dangerous concept she never quite understood. This was a perfect solution to leave Dolly with this gentleman but it was really sad for me to let her go. This had to be my last go of having a dog except of course my son Charlie loves dogs, so whom am I to stop him asking and getting a dog one day?
My history with dogs probably plays more like an Emile Zola novel than a happy, Hallmark type moment but I hope you can understand - I love dogs. So it might surprise you to hear that the point I want to make in this post is that dogs are making us soft at work.
My real concern is that I’m pretty convinced that being soft is not conducive to making a business successful. I don’t recall any mention of a dog in Steve Jobs’ life nor for that matter in Bill Gates’. Yes Zuckerberg has a much-publicized dog but I haven’t heard any mention of his dog being in the office. I’m sure Google has a dog policy but I’ve never seen one there and I suspect no one would ever consider bringing a dog in to work because they are so driven to be successful. Is it possible that what we thought was a good thing for office environments actually reduces a business’s potential?
There’s plenty of research out there that suggests dogs are good for you. There’s even research that speaks to the reduced stress in the office environment thanks to the introduction of dogs. I just saw a study this week by Randolph Barker, a professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University’s business school in Richmond, Va., which showed a 11% reduction in stress at work where dogs were present. But is reduced stress good for business? When considering the behavioral science of business; the carnal nature of competition and drive for success seem to be front and center in discussions, which to me is in stark contrast to this focus on stress reduction. It’s true that this carnal nature has got us into a lot of trouble especially with rogue CEOs, cost cutting oil companies and egotistical bankers but that’s a small group of individuals and shouldn’t dictate macro shifts in my mind. I’m not advocating for cutthroat competition because this is too singular in behavior and causes too many problems - the sort of problems that make a dog pooping in the office look like a bunch of flowers arriving at reception.
I think a good level of stress and competition in the office is essential to business success and I’m coming to the conclusion that dogs are one of the enemies to these dynamics.
I believe the ideal behavior in building business success will be one that’s an active collaborative state. Collaboration is a dangerous word in my mind because it gets cloaked in friendliness and mutual adoration - dog like descriptors - but when I use the adjective ‘active’ , I’m advocating for the concept of a healthy wrestle to get to strong ideas. Northwestern University Sociologist Brian Uzzi’s study of Broadway musicals supports this belief in my mind. He showed, where groups were too familiar with one another, fresh ideas tended to be stifled.
Perhaps you’re not in an idea led type business or each new day doesn’t call for exceeding the previous day’s successes. In your case, my argument is perhaps meaningless. For those businesses where I believe a healthy level of stress and competition makes for greater success, I’m ready for your counter arguments.