Corporate Anthropology and the Beta Business

As an intern with REALTOR® Magazine this fall, I had to see the movie “The Intern” when it hit the theaters. But I was surprised to find myself more engaged with the business culture of the fictional online clothing retailer “About the Fit” than with the performances of two actors I rather love. The company portrayed onscreen was dynamic and collaborative, with its leadership intimately connected to the nitty gritty details of making it successful. For instance, the first time we meet Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the founder of “About the Fit,” she is personally handling a sensitive customer service call, despite her extremely busy schedule. Her coworker suggests she employ the help of senior citizen intern Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro). Though resistant to the idea initially, Ostin opens to his help as she realizes his business sense honed by decades in the field is an incredible mentoring opportunity for her. She exhibits humility and hands-on leadership because it is what will allow her company to succeed.

But this is not a movie review! Rather, I am here to tell you about a book that highlights the sort of culture I found so fascinating in “The Intern.” Turns out this type of company is merely one example of a growing trend in business.

Credit: Gratisography

©Ryan McGuire, Gratisography

Dana Ardi, a corporate anthropologist, writes in her book The Fall of the Alphas about the new philosophy guiding business management structures. She compares the traditional model, which she terms Alpha, with the model that is gaining traction as a younger work force comes of age, one she terms Beta. While the Beta company seeks to promote creativity through collaboration, productivity through flexible work environments, and loyalty by giving employees a chance to learn and grow, the Alpha model is characterized by a CEO-led, stratified, and competitive environment.

Drawing from her career in executive coaching, Ardi’s book is a wonderful guide to shifting from an Alpha leadership structure to a Beta version. You really need to read the book to get a holistic idea of the differences, but I’ve highlighted a few below to get you started.

  • Communication – In Alpha companies, communication between teams and coworkers is often limited because of internal competition. Information is withheld as a way to play the power game that is integral to moving up the Alpha hierarchy. In Beta cultures, a company recognizes that employees shouldn’t be competing with each other; instead their energy should be focused on competition in the market. Leadership is open with changes and ideas in the company so that everyone can be a part of brainstorming how to bring their products to the forefront of their industry.
  • Self-Actualization – Beta companies seek to create environments where their employees can reach their full potential and feel fulfilled in their work.  This might be by helping them pursue educational opportunities or by allowing them to try new things within their job to gain different experiences. It may be by finding different ways to compensate them for dedicated time with the company while allowing them to do the work they love and excel at, rather than just moving them up to a management job, where they may be unhappy or ineffective.  Alpha companies, by contrast, see the only road to success as the one that climbs a predetermined corporate management ladder, no matter if their employees find those roles satisfying.
  • Humility – Many top leaders in Alpha companies hide their management weaknesses so as to appear strong and powerful. A Beta leader, though, will not only seek to identify the gaps in their expertise, but intentionally hire to fill those gaps. They may even hire a person whose business management style is markedly different than their own, knowing that contrasting opinions can often bring about fresh ideas.

What you don’t get a taste of in this review is how approachable this book is to read. As Ardi weaves in stories from the field, her theories are made concrete. This stunning manifesto for Beta business will hopefully help usher in a new age of creativity and collaboration across industries.  Even if Anne Hathaway isn’t your boss.

Victoria Holmen

Victoria Holmen is an intern for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at

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