I know next to nothing, no, make that nothing about anthropology. However, on several occasions I have read that throughout the animal kingdom, every social group, pack, pod, litter, colony, team, board of supervisors, has an alpha that leads the bunch.
This holds true for humans although the outward authority of the alpha differs a lot from one group to another. Take for example a board of directors for a non-profit, a school board, and for-profit enterprises. The alpha may simply guide discussions at meetings, keep things on track and moving along and assist the group in coming to a consensus or at least a voting majority. This works well and is beneficial to the team. People are allowed to voice their opinions, listen to others, persuade and/or be persuaded and the group as a whole makes decisions that a true majority is in favor of.
Then there is the alpha ape. The alpha ape is an ignorant, chest thumping, loud mouth who is going to save the rest of the loutish boors on the board from their own stupidity.
On one occasion, we were in the early stages of design for a major building project for a college facility. The college’s mission or vision statement (or something like that) explained that they were essentially committed to be an isolated ecosystem. The only mass that enters and exits the system is people. They grow their own food, recycle their waste, generate all the tiny bit of energy they use, and have no runoff. Of course this is facetious, but the statement indicated they have the greenest campus in the world.
So there we were – on a teleconference with their board, the architect, and some other stakeholders when the subject of LEED is put on the table. The alpha ape takes over for the client’s board essentially saying, “No way. Costs a fortune. I know all about it. It’s a waste of money and we’re not going follow the 10,000 other morons who do this LEED crap. We can follow the LEED stuff without messing with those drones.” We on the other end of the phone were rolling our eyes and shaking our heads so loudly we had to put the phone on mute. If these people did this project and didn’t “waste their time and money” with LEED, they would regret it big time. It would literally be an embarrassment for a long time, we thought. They would look like fools with that mission statement and how would their donors respond? And wouldn’t you know it, a couple months later we got a call from the college president. They wanted to know how much LEED would cost, anyway. I wonder how alpha ape got out of that with his ego intact. Months later the project gets LEED Gold and this puts the president is in a state of euphoric nirvana as a result.
In a more recent case, we presented a school district with a project that would cut their energy costs by one third with a payback of barely over a year. In another case, we presented a financial institution with the opportunity to cut its energy costs by more than half with a 1.6 year payback. In the former case the administrator exerted his brilliance and authority by killing the project. Meanwhile, he wanted to do a lighting project that had a payback of about 10 years but it didn’t work out financially – the monthly savings would not be greater than the monthly payments. But he wasn’t about to look frail by lumping that in with our project that has a 1.5 year payback and would save 30% of total consumption. Brilliant! How do these people think? I wonder how they fit their ego through the door in the morning.
What are the traits/proclivities of the alpha ape?
- Cannot believe how much smarter he is relative to everyone else in the room.
- Revels at the challenge of shooting down the most obviously beneficial projects, just to demonstrate his power and influence.
- Sucks every bit of intellectual capital he can get from a consultant for free, and then feels a strong sense of accomplishment for paying nothing and wasting thousands of dollars of consultant’s time and expenses.
- Drives an expensive car.
- Is less charitable than Joe Biden.
- Won’t engage in any competition such as video games, golf or pinochle where he knows he may lose.
- Screams at his 10 year old for booting a ground ball in little league.
- Gets into fights with parents on the opposing team.
- Budges in line at the airport.
- Is rude and obnoxious with wait staff and leaves $2 tips.
- Won’t give Wiffle balls back to neighbor kids who are able to clear his 15 foot backyard fence.
- Dogs growl and bark wildly in his presence – like the Terminator.
How does one overthrow an alpha? In the world of the predator, say a pack of lions, a challenger will fight the alpha perhaps to its death, and then kill the loser alpha’s cubs. An energy efficiency or LEED project in most cases does not rise to this level of importance. But seriously, if you can make an alpha ape look like the fool that he is, and this is typically not difficult – it just takes some gastro rectitude, he can fade like a day-old poppy.
 You may be thinking: “30%, sure. 50% sure.” We haven’t come up short on actual savings versus predicted savings yet.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP