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

endless creativity and innovation. The result has been long working hours, burnout, sweat shops and price hikes. The situation now has been described by the author as one where we are gasping for air in a sea of corruption, dysfunction, environmental degradation, waste, disenchantment and inequality. The more we compete, the more unequal our society becomes.

The main takeaway is that relentless focus on winning always has costs. When siblings grow up in rivalry, they struggle to trust one another. When schools celebrate the top students of the class, they demotivate the rest. When the rich win tax cuts, inequality grows. As sports become fiercer, careers shorten and injuries abound. When executives compete for bonuses, they cheat and lose friendships and relations. Heffernan stresses that when work excludes all other aspects of life, the reality checks, questions and discontinuities that we need to test our thinking on disappear and there is no time for them.

What has to change is our approach to life, which is gradually happening. The new models being used are centred on pooling resources, sharing information, organising projects, etc, which replace existing rivalries. Even at a more rudimentary level, children are looking more at education rather than having a career. A positive consequence is that they are better able to understand what they are studying. The belief in the power of collaboration now underlies some of the most successful organisations where they depend on human capacity to create together. An empowered workforce works better and crowdsourcing is generally accepted as a more effective and pragmatic way to tackle problems.

This is a very thought-provoking book for us as individuals, as well as executives working in the government or any company. There are choices to make and while everyone wants to be ahead in the quest for power, money and recognition, there are strong tradeoffs along the way, which cannot be eschewed. There are alternatives but, as Heffernan shows, we need to open our minds and move out of this race and explore them. More importantly, there has to be a conscious attempt.

Madan Sabnavis is chief economist, CARE Ratings

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