Who’s on top? Who’s coming second? Who’s coming last?
And does any of this matter?
With the way our schooling has conditioned us, yes it does. A great deal.
But it would actually be much better for us all if it didn’t.
It’s a toxic culture and it runs right through most conventional thinking about education. It explains why we are so hung up on comparing ourselves to others.
So why do we, as individuals, communities, nations and blocs of nations always strive to understand ourselves in relation to how others are perceived?
We’re kind of fixated on asking – are we better than them? Or are they better than us? And in what way are they better than us?And what can we do to improve or grow so that we can end up better than them?
It’s a toxic mindset ingrained in us from childhood.
I say it’s time for new thinking.
Look at the whole concept of business competition. Are our business competitors really who we think they are?
If you’re a business owner for example, who do you consider your competitors to be? Perhaps not who you think.
A deep drill into the company brand usually challenges perceptions of who we are competing with, for one simple reason. No business does things the way our organisation does.
I’d like to take you to a weird parallel universe and within it, a very different kind of business world.
In this particular world, the old hierarchical management structures are gone, or they never even existed.
This is a world where organisations are so focused on their customers that management decisions are made on the basis of feedback that comes directly from customer-facing staff.
Organisations can explore together, co-operate and grow – when they have thrown off the phoney notions of competition that were driving them apart from each other.
Here in this world, information and ideas flow freely in horizontal as well as vertical directions and walls are made of glass, not brick.
Contented, well-rewarded employees are empowered to feed into a world of constant disruptions where conventional ideas and conceptions get continuously challenged.
Because this is the culture here.
This is a world where transparency frees people to feed their ideas across to each other, liberated from all fears of saying the wrong thing.
Task-oriented people focus on achieving things for their own betterment, not because they want to beat somebody at something.
Career goals are not seen as upward, but inward. Which means it’s no longer about climbing a ladder, but more about feeding an inward need for growth and fulfilment.
In this world, the development of quality relationships is regarded as one of the most important aspirations in the organisation.
Corporate social responsibility and ESG are stitched into the very fabric of the company.
People say to each other: “I will help you succeed. That is my goal. And this is how I will be assessed in the workplace – by what I have done to help others achieve.”
And what do you think is the single major long-term benefit of all this?
Taking away the stresses, allowing people to breathe deeply and easily.
Enabling people to work and play and never know the difference – as someone once said to me.
Remember that teacher at school? The one who made you laugh?
The one who brought joy and fun in the classroom?
They made you feel something. What was it? Relief, possibly.
But also amazement that it could be like this. That the equal and opposite of success doesn’t have to be someone else’s misery.
It was the realisation that everybody can feel sweet success.
And here’s the real truth about breaking down those norm-referenced, bell-curve driven barriers.
People succeed best when they’re happy. At work, at home, everywhere.
That’s true beauty – which some of us experience at some time in our lives.
Let’s believe this is all possible.
It’s a wonderful, affirming world, this one I envision. And no, it isn’t just utopia.
It can all become possible, when we rid ourselves of the pernicious effects of ranking.
We just need to understand two things:
- The damage that prevailing attitudes, beliefs and values are doing to us as individuals and as a society.
- The opportunities that will come from a change of mindset – away from ranking and towards co-operation and intrinsic competition.
And the only way to achieve both, is through an overhaul of education systems worldwide, the majority of which seek to select and reward the tiny minority at the expense of all the rest.
Here’s a US high school kid who puts it very well.
You won’t be surprised to know that I’ve got a lot more to say on this. My next post will focus on education and what it will take to break the pernicious cycle of ranking.