In the future, forget the pecking order

Margaret Heffernan delivering her TED talk, "Forget the pecking order at work."

Margaret Heffernan delivering her TED talk, "Forget the pecking order at work."


What if the future of learning depends upon a simple but profound shift?

Collaboration > Competition

In this episode of Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast, Margaret Heffernan, former CEO of five tech companies, says this:

“There is often a belief among very successful, very competitive people that you want to get everybody to compete with each other--that if everybody is racing against everybody, then you’ll have this kind of a white heat of brilliance and creativity. And I think pretty much everything about that idea is wrong.

“I have seen more companies and organizations go wrong because of negative competitiveness: I do want you to fail, or I want your department to fail, or I want your product to fail, because that will make me shine. I’ve seen more damage and destruction and waste from that mentality than probably from any other misunderstanding.

We all grow up in education systems that are very individualistic: My grades, or my college placement. So there’s always a tendency to think, I have to get ahead.

But actually what makes people successful is each other. If you come to me with an idea and I say, ‘Well that’s interesting! What about this?’ or ‘I know somebody you should talk to’ or ‘Go and look at this product--that might give you some ideas.’ If you can build an environment in which people really want to help each other, full of people who are generous, you will do infinitely better than creating some kind of Olympic sport within the company.”

Here is Heffernan’s 2015 TED talk, in which she explains the virtue of selecting for collaboration over competition:

“It means that what happens between people really counts, because in groups that are highly attuned and sensitive to each other, ideas can can flow and grow; people don’t get stuck; they don’t waste energy going down dead ends.”

That TED talk is titled “Forget the pecking order at work.”

What if we could forget the pecking order at school, too? How many great ideas, how much human flourishing, could we unleash?




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Christian Talbot