Corporate rat race

Jul 06 2014, 15:25 IST
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SummaryWhile everyone wants to be ahead in the quest for power, money and recognition, there are strong tradeoffs along the way, A Bigger Prize reveals

We all remember Adele for the songs she sings. But little do we realise that there are 100—or maybe even 200—people in the background who make these songs possible. That’s the crux of anything great. Rarely do we stop to think of what lies behind success. What matters is collaboration, which takes place not just between individuals, but also organisations and countries, and takes them to higher levels of performance. This is what Margaret Heffernan argues and proves in her rather interesting book titled, A Bigger Prize.

She shows how we have become too competitive in every walk of life, which has had deleterious effects on us. Right from the time we are born, we are competitive with our siblings for attention. When we go to school, grades matter the most and we are constantly striving to get ahead of others. We cannot be blamed for this attitude because the system is such that it is necessary to stay at the top, as all the good jobs go to those who perform best. Therefore, there is tremendous competition as we move into management schools to get entry into these corporations. While we are in these companies, we compete to move up the echelon. In this rat race, which is finally what happens when economic Darwinism is practised, we lose our bearings and actually move out of sync with the better things in life, which can be quality or even being in touch with our families.

In fact, the author is critical of the competitiveness in sports, where there is early burnout, as everyone strives for victory and there is limited room at the top. The promise and romance for money and glory drive sportspersons really hard. Sports has lost its charm as every game has become ultra-competitive. If we look around at what happens in cricket, tennis, soccer, etc, we will see vindication of this theory.

When it comes to companies, they tend to get bigger, often straying from the path and indulging in all kinds of unethical practices to maintain leadership. But we have seen people like Jack Welch admitting that there could be better ways of doing things. Therefore, what we see at an individual’s level holds true for companies as well. The stress everywhere is on being the best and out-competing others—all in the name of delivering superior shareholder value.

Heffernan goes through several case studies to show

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