Let Go & Lead
Meg Wheatley Author
Co-Founder of the Berkana Institute

The Misperception of Competition (4:54)

Oh there are wonderful alternatives. And you know we see it. It’s in front of our face all the time. And so I want to go back to a quote that I used at the beginning of one of my earlier books, A Simpler Way. Which was I believe by Chopin Howard who said that, you know, ‘The task is not to see that which nobody sees but to think that which nobody thinks about that which everybody sees.’ So we really need to develop new eyes through which to see our experience and we need to be much more engaged in learning from our experience to develop those new eyes.

And my own perception of what’s going on in just about every leadership team unless they’ve gotten wise, is they just keep trying the same approach over and over again and the only changes that they make is that they do it faster. It’s like speed is the missing variable here and actually its people’s engagement that’s the missing variable. So when we get into this which is Einstein’s definition of stupidity which is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results. I just think we’re like gerbils on a, you know on a wheel going round and round and round and just thinking if we speed it up or if we change whose leading a process that we’ll be fine. Nobody questions the process and nobody seems to notice how our insistence on these very controlling old processes are just disempowering the very people we need who would make a difference and who want to contribute.

So the longer we stay in this savior role or this heroic role some of it is very well intentioned by the way, you know, leaders really want to help and they want to save their institutions and organizations and they really want people not to suffer so much. But the means for doing that if its still, I’ll do it, you know, if you’re either a benevolent dictator or just an outright dictator it doesn’t work. So what does work is our years and years now, our decades of research and evidence on the power of engaging people. And you see it very vividly so this is where we can develop our new eyes if we look at any disaster situation; we’ve got more than enough tragedies right now in the news. But in those moments, it’s not bureaucracy; it’s not governments that make the difference. It’s everyday people, its strangers and friends who rush in because they want to help other human beings and that’s the dynamic that I find so alive in people no matter their culture no matter their age. This desire to be in good relationships, this desire to help other people and this desire to learn and contribute—I mean those are the dynamics we have to work with you see the most clearly in very tragic, post disaster situations….

I would just ask people to look closely at what their learning about human nature from a crisis because you see compassion, you see generosity I mean, even in the economic recession we saw a lot of coverage given to companies and, large organizations where people were sacrificing going to a four day work week so that everyone could have their job. Or I remember Beth-Israel Hospital in Boston where the doctors decided to take a pay cut so that the cafeteria workers could be maintained. You see these acts of generosity and one of the great tragedies of our western mindset is that we believe that people are motivated by competition and actually people are motivated by love. And, and, and we have very generous spirits. Generosity is more common to human beings than competition. And wanting to be in good relationships is much more common worldwide than seeing what I can get out of you. Or, you know seeing you as an object for my own, progress or career progress. So we’re living in a very warped paradigm that has a set of assumptions about human nature that are incredibly negative and disabling.