Squirrels teach us about office manipulators

What squirrels can teach us about office manipulators

“highway road photo” by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash

Once I got run over once, the temptation was to become hyperaware of this new reality. I began to see specters where none existed.

Toast Protocol

An oncoming car approaches. After a moment of frozen panic, a squirrel usually darts towards one edge of the road or the other. The driver feels relieved, starting to accelerate.

It is just at this moment that the squirrel activates Part Deux of his devious plan: flip a bitch.

That’s right. Secret Agent Squirrel spins on a dime and hurtles back toward whatever whirling piece of death rubber is closest to him.

I like the phrase “too clever by half.” It aptly describes the squirrel. An entire half of his plan objectively sucks. He basically deserves to get hit… if only his brain weren’t acorn-sized.

Photo by Demi-Felicia Vares on Unsplash

Our environment has changed, but our responses haven’t.

“It’s Science”

The squirrel didn’t learn this trick. It’s not like they’re on the gridiron every day after squirrel school running routes for coach. Rather, this behavior is hardwired.

What once worked has been superceded by technology. Squirrels can’t help themselves. Their environment has changed, but their responses haven’t.

Similarly, we humans often react in ways that increase our peril based on outdated genetic code.[1]


Click, Whirr [2]

Rodents listen to podcasts, and the hosts are all talking about the “reptile brain” we all have. That and nuts. Lots of episodes on nuts.

On a recent episode of The Tim Ferret Show entitled “How to defend your human’s squirrelfeeder against birds,” the host reminded the audience that most humans aren’t actually hunting squirrels, especially when the former are riding in their speedy, metal death machines. Thus, the hardcoded Adrian Peterson fake-out in a squirrel’s reptile brain is gonna backfire.

One type of person that’s easy to despise is the office manipulator. If you’re that person, just know that we all hate you. But I understand you’re doing it for one reason: it usually works.

For everyone else, there is a point in your life where you became — or will become — acutely aware of office politics. It’s called getting fucked over.

Despite the very mortal perils of my military service, that early part of my career had ironically blinded me to other kinds of risks. People in the armed forces aren’t perfect. But they generally have, y’know, ethics and stuff. At least squirrels can sense the oncoming danger. I never saw it coming.

Once I got run over once, the temptation was to become hyperaware of this new reality. I began to see specters where none existed. I reacted in ways that were counterproductive, since those other humans weren’t actually trying to eat me. I’d dart back from the curb and get run over. I became a squirrel who deserved to get hit.

Most of those other humans were just driving to work, the only Spektor playing on the speakers of their speedy metal death machines.


If I ever run routes for coach, I hope it’s this guy:

Full Benefit (aka footnotes)

[1] Of course, we can also blame familial and cultural conditioning more than the squirrel can.

[2] See the book Presuasion by Robert Cialdini.