A day before I was slated to submit my August blog post, I was at the gym half way into my morning workout, when I stumbled upon Margaret Heffernan’s recent TED Talk. I have listened to her previous talks; however, I have to say, it was the title of her latest talk that engaged me. This post is my millennial interpretation of Heffernan’s TED Talk.
“Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work”
For those of you unfamiliar with Margaret, here’s the rundown: entrepreneur, Chief Executive, author, director/producer and all around “superwoman”.
Heffernan starts off with a story about chickens and their productivity. Evolutionary biologist William Muir studied chickens and was interested in finding out what could make his chickens more productive. Stay with me….
Muir created two groups: average chickens and “superchickens” also known as the most productive chickens. As time passed, the average chickens were doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. The “superchickens”, not so much. All but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.
All our lives we’ve been told that the way to get ahead is to compete. Score the highest on your SATs, get into the right school, work at the best company in a top position. Inspiring right? Not so much. Exhausting is a better word.
Heffernan continues by saying, “We’ve thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest men, or occasionally women, in the room, and giving them all the resources and all the power. And the result has been just the same as in William Muir’s experiment: aggression, dysfunction and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”
So how does Heffernan’s story and Muir’s analogy relate to us? One word: Helpfulness. Prior to listening to Heffernan’s TED Talk, helpfulness would not have been the word I would use to describe success in the workplace. ‘Help my colleagues? That’s preposterous! What about me? I have to think about my own success. Why would I help them?’ This may be a “little dramatic”, but let’s face it, we all have these thoughts whether we admit it or not. Heffernan continues her talk by metaphorically slapping her audience in the face. She states:
“Now, helpfulness sounds really anemic, but it’s absolutely core to successful teams, and it routinely outperforms individual intelligence. Helpfulness means I don’t have to know everything, I just have to work among people who are good at getting and giving help…when the going gets tough, and it always will get tough if you’re doing breakthrough work that really matters, what people need is social support, and they need to know who to ask for help. Companies don’t have ideas; only people do. And what motivates people are the bonds and loyalty and trust they develop between each other. What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.”
There it is. The honest, stripped down truth. The KEY to success and productivity. Who would of thought it could be so simple? In this day in age ruled by iPhones, Instagram and SnapChat, it’s harder than we think to really connect with others. Heffernan continues by stating that social capital is the reliance and interdependency that builds trust.
“Social capital is what gives companies momentum, and social capital is what makes companies robust… time is everything, because social capital compounds with time. So teams that work together longer get better, because it takes time to develop the trust you need for real candor and openness. And time is what builds value.
Conflict is frequent because candor is safe. And that’s how good ideas turn into great ideas, because no idea is born fully formed. It emerges a little bit as a child is born, kind of messy and confused, but full of possibilities. And it’s only through the generous contribution, faith, and challenge that they achieve their potential. And that’s what social capital supports.”
This post is intended to open your mind, your thought process and spark a whole new conversation with your colleagues (some whom you may have sat next to for years, yet you know nothing about). We’re all “busy”. But are we really? What are we busy doing? Is our busyness something we have cursed ourselves with for the rest of our professional careers? Using the words I have typed in this post today, ask yourself “Am I busy because I refuse to ask for help? Am I destroying my own career and the growth of my company because I have chosen to be a “superchicken”?
“We won’t solve our problems if we expect them to be solved by a few supermen or superwomen. Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure. “ – Margaret Heffernan