Puss in Boots: A Management Case Study

"You have but to give me a sack, and a pair of boots  such as gentlemen wear when they go shooting."  - Illustration by Warwick Goble to Puss in Boots

"You have but to give me a sack, and a pair of boots such as gentlemen wear when they go shooting." - Illustration by Warwick Goble to Puss in Boots

Let us briefly consider the career advancement strategies of Puss in Boots. In order to avoid a potential for being served as dinner for a dispossesed and impoverished master, he organizes a plot, apparently involving foot apparel.

He begins by using his natural feline abilities to catch prey to bribe the king with, which he declares as gifts from his master — a Marquis no less! Although Perault does not say so, his wearing of boots no doubt gave him the necessary credibility to gain an appointment with the royal CEO.

That bribery accomplished, he maneuvers his master (who is completely passive throughout the whole affair) into ‘losing’ his clothes to some imaginary robbers in a place likely for the king and his daughter to come by for a swim. With the king (and the cat’s) assistance, he is given new clothes and captures the fancy of the princess.

But now he must own land to justify his title. Fortunately for him (and for the sake of this being a fairy tale as well) we encounter a magical ogre with powers of transformation. Puss tricks him into turning into a mouse so that he may arrange a hostile takeover. He then manages labor relations with the ogres serfs (who seem not too bothered by their master’s passing) to obey the fake Marquis. Seeing such extensive assets, the king is so impressed by our hero’s master that he insists on a merger by marrying him to his daughter.

"Puss in Boots" Illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

"Puss in Boots" Illustrated by Maxfield Parrish

Now with a title, royal sympathy, fine clothes and land with convenient serfs and a royal wedding, our hero (the cat) is assured of a livelihood serving a great lord at court.

Why is this all so unsurprising?

Of all the stories by Perrault, this allegory is certainly his most autobiographical (not counting the murder of the magical ogre) since this is about status advancement via proper courtly manners. Being an official at the court of Louis XIV, he would have been intimately exposed to the Machiavellian intrigues of courtiers. His prescriptions for advancement initially seem an affront to our sensibilities for modern industrial productivity. Contrast this with the fake Marquis’ brothers who, with a sensible bourgois perspective, agree to share resources towards mutual gain. This latter atitude seems to lie closer to contemporary life strategies than the complicated plots Puss must device in order to advance his master’s and his own career.

But has life really changed so much since Perrault’s day? Career advancement and survival in any large organization requires an understanding of the manners surrounding such a millieu. When one looks at the predeliction among our upper management for owning the right house, the right car, the right school for one’s children, perhaps even the right footwear, all in an effort to conform to expectations of a corporate world, one can see as much management genius in Puss in Boots as in any modern management tome.

Image Credits: Warwick Goble, Maxfield Parrish

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