Phil Jesson really has captured the moment with his ‘snappy’ guide, Piranhas in the Bidet. On the back of (at least as the media would have us believe) apparently the worst recession since forever, the time is well overdue to take a good look at de-mystifying some of the overblown bulk of management theory, MBA speak and TLAs (the dreaded three letter abbreviations) that proliferate in the corporate world.
In the same novelistic style very much preferred by Patrick Lencioni (read out review of his Five Dysfunctions of a Team) and even by the great man himself, John Kotter, in his tales of ‘melting icebergs’ (‘Hearts of Change’), Phil Jesson – or I should say more pertinently, his fictional occasional chauffer, George Willis – takes Simon Gray, the newly appointed CEO of Aldertons, on a journey that far exceeds a boss’s expectations.
Tellingly, the journey also far exceeds the brief afforded to Willis. I am sure when he was given the job of driving his ‘boss’ to and from meetings and business engagements that the ‘gig’ was intended to start and end with opening and closing doors, and with getting Simon from A to B safely and in relative silence. But this is far from the case as George simultaneously annoys and frustrates Simon as he forces him to analyse not just what he does, but how he does it – and even questions his whole reason for being – before becoming Simon’s friend and advisor!
The chapter headings, ‘They decide if you are a leader, not you’ and ‘The journey up trust mountain’ are not just intriguing, They are also keen observations of the ‘games’ that business leaders are expected to play in order that they might don the mantles of excellent, charismatic or inspirational leader – or any of the other similarly subjective handles available on which to hang all of us on at one time or another (or at least all of us who are, have been or aspire to become occupants of the rarified atmosphere of the corporate world!)
It would be easy to come to the conclusion that George Willis provides the conscience and clarity that Simon Gray cannot tap into from his elevated position in the company, but George is not Morgan Freeman to Jessica Tandy’s Miss Daisy. Nor does Jesson simply venture into a fictional universe that merely parallels PG Wodehouse’s ‘Wooster’s World’: George is not the irrepressible Jeeves. What George Willis brings to Piranhas in the Bidet is a critical role (in both senses) as the interpreter of the ‘business speak’ and translator of the jargon and psycho-babble who turns the hyperbole into a genuinely useful methodology than can be purposefully employed. He is nothing short of a life and business guru … who also happens to drive the Bentley!
Jesson cleverly utilises this device and the role of George Willis to ensure that convoluted and complex management speak and MBA theory are clearly explained and evidenced at all times, and – crucially – that the resulting words of wisdom can be pragmatically applied into the fictitious world of Aldertons, And more importantly for us as readers, the parallels with just about everywhere else are clear to see. In that respect, this work succeeds significantly.
The summaries at the end of each chapter are helpful, though I found this a little gimmicky (and an interruption to the ‘fiction’). Likewise, the explanation of a model to support the Planning Process is thoroughly explained, but just a little ponderously. By this stage in the book, we probably did not need Jesson to take quite such a long run at things! By Chapter 3, we ‘get’ George and Simon: more importantly, we ‘get it’! (That said, I should declare that, for me, these are but minor gripes.)
My conclusion is that Piranhas in the Bidet is an interesting and unexpectedly (but enjoyably) light read that, while it does not take itself too seriously, manages to put across serious ideas in an easy to apply way. As Stella Gray – our heroine (and Simon’s wife) – would say: ‘the joy in the journey is what matters in the end.’ This book is a joy of a journey for sure! Well done, Phil Jesson.