Cats Versus Dogs, And Change

Adam Morse shared a few thoughts with me about cats that are sticking to the roof of mind. Let me write them down before I forget.

  • Dogs are pack animals — they respond in causal ways
  • Cats are independent animals — they respond in their ways

When first owning a cat, new owners attempt to “discipline them” by making a loud sound when the cat does something bad. That only makes the cat record the fact that their owner has a tendency to get annoyingly loud at them sometimes … and that’s not attractive. So it then makes the cat code the owner as someone to avoid. And they haven’t learned anything new, per se. So it’s a lose-lose situation.

Another thing Adam pointed out was how getting cats to co-exist with each other for the first time isn’t easy. So he feeds both of them on the other side of a door at the same time. And this enables the cat to smell the other cat, but within a pleasant situation of eating. This, in turn, signals that being with the other cat is something good.

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It made me think about how when you work with independent-minded people, you can’t assume they’re going to come along with the fervor and mindless adoration like a dog might jump in with you. You have to think of cats. And how cats really have no interest in you — and they will especially feel that way if you repeatedly annoy them. So you need to be near them in their space of comfort and happy, and then start from their good place (instead of yours). That’s a lot of work. And when it’s worth it, you’ll do it again.

Adam’s story reminded me of how many times I’ve worked well with independent-minded thinkers and how the “cat principle” was more effective than the 🐶-minded alternative. As someone who can lean both ways, I totally get it. —JM


After discussing this further with my resident cat-o-lo-gist, Wendy Johansson, the following archetypes started to emerge:

  • “The cat who is dressed like a dog.” They look like they’re on the team and gung-ho, but deep down inside they’re like “WTF” and disengaged. When they’re the lead, they’re good at playing dog. When they’re in the follower role, they’re coded as “problematic.”
  • “The dog who people think is a cat.” They’re executors who have been coded as divergent, but in reality they just want to get things done and win with the team. People are often freaked out by them because they see the cat ears and think, “NOT a dog!”
  • “The dog who is being led by a cat.” They’re stuck with a leader that they have no idea what they’re thinking, and they have to live in “sticky honey bear”-mode all the time and be slightly tormented but ready to run at a moment’s notice.
  • “The cat who leads the dogs.” They are the creative lead at an agency with big ideas and has a ton of people who will execute for them. The cat needed to act like a dog to become a cat in later life — it was a painful part of their professional upbringing.
  • “The cat who leads the cats.” They are a divergent person who leads divergent people. Sending in a cat to herd cats is often the worst thing go do if you seek an outcome. However, it’s often the easiest way to keep all the cats being led much more happy.
  • “The dog who leads the dogs.” They are someone who follows orders and, in turn, has folks who follow orders as well. If the world were all run like this, we wouldn’t need systems like OKRs to get more aligned. Is 100% loyalty and compliance a good thing for an organization. I think not. However it’s valuable in times of a crisis or emergency.