Instead of building real value, the “Age of Me” culture is steeped in“how a person with money hires a person without for the lowest possible wageto make as much profit as possible for the one with money.”
Why does our world bring out the worst in us?
Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of five companies and entrepreneur, believes excessive competition stifles creativity, discovery, and joy. In A Bigger Prize, she shares how evolutionary biologist William Muir at Purdue University set out to determine whether the most productive chickens would breed a kind of super chicken and spawn future generations of top producers.
Muir chose to experiment with chickens because their productivity is relatively easy to measure as you can just count the eggs. He started by dividing the chickens into two groups: the most productive were selected for the first group and Muir left the rest to roam freely.
After six generations, the chickens in the average group were found to be plump, fully feathered and their egg production had also increased dramatically.
Alas, of the super chicken group, only three were left. To survive, they had pecked the others to death. Over successive generations, they also became less productive. By contrast, the free-range chickens became even more productive over time.
Starting from school through to career and perhaps even seeking life partners, the “Age of Me” culture seems to super reinforce the super chicken model. By picking superstars – the brightest and most knowledgeable men or women and giving them all the resources and power, the popular myth is that they can lead us to success and happiness. But just like in the William Muir’s experiment, the results have been aggression, dysfunction and sheer waste. Qualities and behaviors that make individuals successful in their careers – narcissism and self-aggrandizement, the ability to skillfully speak or act in an evasive way, having no conscience or moral compass and acting and presenting oneself in ways that are not authentic are some qualities that do not necessarily produce great group results or healthy workplaces.
Take how our education system and career tracks split people into extremely narrow silos. Somehow, the outcome is that economists, sociologists and philosophers (for example) argue against each other, even if they are from within the same discipline. Often, they cherry pick each other’s points to bits. (Clock thinking comes to mind).
Valuing and personifying leaders as super heroes also leads to an emphasis on form/style over substance. A friend tells of how his nephew has shared that if an expensive mobile phone and study notes are left in the school canteen, the greater fear is that the notes will disappear.
In a culture obsessed with scoring goals, advancing individual ideas and ensuring the spotlight always shines on the lone hero, we become wilfully blind to everyone and everything else. Things that truly matter.
Many things are also complicated because knowledge is hoarded.
A prime example is modern science. Because competition in the scientific community for recognition, funding, and glory is so intense, scientists often act like secretive soloists. Rather than advance the sum of human knowledge, papers are published because merit is measured by the number of papers published. The amount of research published in the most respected journals and subsequently retracted as rushed, faulty, or misleading has risen to record levels.
According to Ken Robinson: “The dominant systems of education are based on three “assumptions” that are exactly opposite to how human lives are actually lived. First, they promote standardization and a narrow view of intelligence when human talents are diverse and personal. Second, they promote compliance when cultural progress and achievement depend on the cultivation of imagination and creativity. Third, they are linear and rigid when the course of each human life, including yours, is organic and largely unpredictable.”
The Edelman Trust index indicates that trust in leaders is at an all-time low while other surveys show that employees do not expect their own leaders to make ethical decisions or to consistently tell them the truth about difficult situations.