Imagine you’re given your choice of living in two worlds. Before you decide, you listen to inhabitants of each world, who tell you what to expect.
“We live in a world of scarcity, with limited resources. Since there’s not enough for everyone, some will get more than others. We have to compete with each other to see who gets more and, inevitably, who gets less.
“Of course, I intend to be the one who gets more, and that means that you’ll have to be satisfied with whatever’s left. Unfortunately for you, I’m hard to satisfy and always want more. I can’t get enough. There is only one pie for all of us, and I intend to get the biggest piece I can before it’s gone.
“And to be honest, I deserve it, because I’m better than you.”
“We live in a world of abundance. There are enough resources for everyone if we use them carefully and share. And the things we discover and invent will create new resources and extend the ones we have. “We can cooperate with each other, which create new opportunities and allows everyone to win.
“I only take what I really need. When everyone does that there is enough for everyone — both now and in the future.
“We are all human; we are all created equal. Acting on that belief creates a world in which everyone wins, and no one loses.”
Which of these worlds do you find more enticing? Which would you want to live in? Most people would choose World Two. But ask yourself this: Which of these worlds do you currently live in? Many of us have to admit that our reality resembles World One more than World Two. Isn’t it sad, and interesting, that the world we live in is so different from the world we want? Let’s give these worlds better names: World One is the World of your Ego (your false self), a world of scarcity and competition. Many call it reality. World Two is the World of your Self, a world of abundance and cooperation. Many may look at this world as a Utopia, but is it? And even if it were, it’s not an impossible Utopia at all.
In the World of Ego, anything goes that puts you ahead of others. In business, this includes stealing and copying of ideas and intellectual property; poaching the best people from your peers; playing tactical games and using trickery and deceit that incrementally increase your piece of the pie to the disadvantage of others; using marketing communications and public relations to sell inferior products and spread rumors and lies about others; filing law suits against your foes, using unwarranted, fabricated and blatantly wrong claims; lobbying, manipulating and bribing regulators and government officials to put obstacles in the way of your competitors; intimidating and bullying anyone who tries to move in on your turf; or simply buying a player to demote him from dangerous contestant to a minor or sidelined part of your team; among many others. In their song “Everything Counts”, the English band Depeche Mode described this world: “The grabbing hands / Grab all they can / All for themselves / After all / It’s a competitive world / Everything counts in large amounts.” Has your organization ever resorted to one or more of the above methods? Have you personally ever used these practices to get ahead of someone else?
So what? What’s the problem with these tactics?
- When you resort to these ego-driven tactics, you focus exclusively on your competitors and what they have and do. This obsession with “the enemy” prevents you from listening to your customers, from realizing new market opportunities, and from mapping emerging future markets. You focus on winning, and on destroying the competition, rather than on creating new value and making meaning.
- You waste a lot of energy watching others, and plotting responses to their actions. You are always chasing the latest trend, the newest products, the most surprising new solutions. You are a follower, not a leader. As Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”
- These Ego-tactics prevent you from achieving outstanding and sustainable growth; at best, they will result in incremental growth, but more likely will lead to stagnation and slow but steady decline. This is true both for organizations and for individuals.
In contrast, the World of your Self is the cradle of creativity. As creativity is the pivotal force that, when coupled with action as the driving force, results in innovation, the Self is also the home of true innovation. It is the world of first making meaning and then making money. In the World of Self, you don’t focus only on yourself, but also on the needs of others. You not only care about creating returns for shareholders and perks for a small elite of hired managers, also about creating large-scale value for all stakeholders: your customers, shareholders, employees (including the managers), suppliers and partners, the government, the environment, and the wider society.
The World of the Self is not a world for copycats and fakes. In the World of Self, you insist upon your own ideas and on producing original own solutions. Rollo May explains why: “If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.” This also means that you respect the ideas and intellectual property (IP) of others and self-confidently oppose those who would steal your ideas and infringe your IP.
In the World of Self, you do what you think is right and what no one else is doing. With reference to Steve Jobs’ comment, you lead your domain and industry, rather than being a follower. “Never do things others can do and will do if there are things others cannot do or will not do”, said the American aviator Amelia Earhart. Doing your own thing is also what the two Sony founders Masura Ibuka and Akio Morito believed in: “The key to success for everything in business, science and technology is never follow the others”, said Masura Ibuka, and Akio Morita said, “I knew we needed a weapon to break through to the U.S. market, and it had to be something different, something that nobody else was making.”
Let me end with a question: Which of the two worlds will you choose to live in? The one that you want? Or the one that you’re in right now?
This article is also published in parallel in the Bangkok Post on September 26 2013.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2013.