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The Squirrel Effect

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. Hoarding 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 hoard 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 that.

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 hoarding. 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.

© 2004 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit or contact Nan at

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