For some people the office environment is the domain of aggressive apes that thrive on conflict. For others workforces are more like ant colonies, working in harmony and greater than the sum of its parts. But according to scientist and author Richard Robinson, it is a combination of the two that makes us successful. Business editor Finn Scott-Delany reports.

Nearly 40 years ago Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene was seized upon by big business as proof of ‘survival of the fittest’.

The 1976 book fitted the belief that since we are descended from apes we should be selfish, aggressive and competitive like them.

Yet more recent discoveries about ant behaviour has shown cooperation and altruism is more common and useful than we think.

Now a new book My Manager and Other Animals claims success depends on a balance of acting like apes and ants.

Richard Robinson, director of Brighton Science Festival, argues the ant and ape mentalities are both important and can work harmoniously.

Cooperation without leadership is random, leadership without cooperation is slavery, he argues.

The result of these two colliding is the mad, chaotic world of work and life, lovingly described in the book.

Richard said: “The balance we have is a bit of ape and a bit of ant. You can’t be lovey-dovey all the time but you can’t be too aggressive. It’s a balance between the two forces.

“The book doesn’t say how to organise your business but allows people to understand the kind of environment we’re in.

“It might show people being too aggressive, that they actually need the people they’re attacking because nothing works on its own.”

The book introduces new concepts of workplace psychology such as egology – the study of workplace ecology and its egos, the descent of over-active managers whose inner ape dominates, unnatural selection – how business courses attract more malign managers.

Robinson also introduces ‘survival of the fitments’ – when things are going badly even inanimate objects are against you, the art of self deference – the erosion of individuality by longsuffering employees and ‘catastrophilia’ – our secret desire for things to go wrong.

Richard Robinson has written 20 books on popular science, including the Science Magic series and the bestselling Why the Toast Always Lands Butter Side Down, which has been translated into 14 languages.

He has lectured at universities worldwide and performed science demonstrations from Boston to Beijing.

In another life he also co-founded the busker’s pitch in Covent Garden and Spitting Image.

To buy the book go to