• Shohreh R Aftahi, PhD

Watchmaker or Beekeeper: It Really Does Make a Difference



What do the following all have in common? Low morale, low profits, lack of staff engagement, high turnover, rampant gossip. All of these can be attributed to a company being led by either a Watchmaker or a Beekeeper – Care to guess which one is the culprit?

If you guessed Watchmaker, you’re right. Let’s chat through why.

A Watchmaker, as referred to in James Fischer’s book, Navigating the Growth Curve, is a person who wants things that are predictable; something they can control. They want to run their business like a precision machine. They believe that to be effective, and its operators must control the enterprise as if they are controlling a device. They further think that the machine exists for a purpose conceived of by its builders; often to make as much money as possible for the head honchos.

Nothing wrong with making money, but to create an intentional enterprise that provides sustainable profits over a long period, our research suggests that the better approach lies in becoming more of a Beekeeper.

Beekeepers have one foot in the future. They have a natural facility to work with the dangerous sisters of growth: complexity and chaos. Beekeepers are more likely to let the intelligence of the team, or ‘hive’ - if you will, to be the operator instead of them. They understand that their business is a living, dynamic entity and if allowed, it will come up with far more ideas and solutions than they ever could. The Beekeeper’s business will continually self-organize around and through its problems and challenges.

In the book, Horace’s recommendation is for Peter to become more like a Beekeeper to capitalize upon the intelligence of his staff instead of trying to control them as he did in the beginning, which caused anger, hostility, and disengagement, and ultimately led to a downward spiral.

This is a lesson that each of us as leaders can’t seem to learn often enough. It seems we run into more Watchmakers than Beekeepers. Why? We observe that leaders tend to assume that they should know all the answers and that to ask for input may put them in a negative light in the eyes of their employees.

So, consequentially, ego wins over intellect.

We would suggest that there is a Beekeeper in all of us but that in our day-to-day struggles to ‘do the right thing’, be ‘responsible' and ‘act like a leader', the Watchmaker takes over more often then any of us would care to admit.


The 7 Stages of Growth concepts and programs, offered by ThriveVance are designed to help leaders predict how that complexity will affect them, focus their efforts and resources on the right things at the right time and adapt to the needs of the company in its unique and respective stage of growth. By utilizing our unique diagnostic tool (Stages of Growth X-Ray), our clients ca ton reach five critical outcomes:

  1. Alignment of the team

  2. Uncover the hidden agents creating obstacles to growth

  3. Expand the awareness of how a business operates

  4. Identify perspectives and encourage dialogue

  5. Focus on five critical initiatives

So, how do you become a Beekeeper if you think you are wired as a Watchmaker? First and foremost, there is a process and a mindset that both have to change.