Artificial Equality

Photo by Gapingvoid


One of my favorite bloggers, Hugh MacLeod, from Gapingvoid, has started a series of posts where he designs business cards for people he admires. He designs a card for them and puts it on his blog explaining a little bit about that person and why the card represents him. The picture above is from his latest cards for Web 2.0 Guru Chris Brogan.

The card reminded me of a powerful lesson I keep being reminded of again and again. This is what I wrote in my e-book:

Equality is an important concept in many aspects of life, especially in the legal field, as I know so well. But in real life, because equality is intertwined into our thinking DNA it is used in ways that many times hinders excellence. Earlier I mentioned Ken Robinson‘s inspiring speech regarding creativity and education. In it he says that standard and equal education for everyone is not necessarily good because it “misses” people’s strengths. All men are not born equal. Whoever tells you that is lying. All man should deserve an equal opportunity to excel, to be happy and to use their comparative advantage. That is the truth. And there is a big difference between the two. Nobody can be good at everything. People who truly excel do it by recognizing their comparative advantage, maximizing it and letting other people do what they are better at than them.

MacLeod’s cartoon and this quote connected very strongly with something I read a few days ago in Richard Hackman’s book, Leading Teams. In many sections of the book he describes the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, a Grammy Award-winning classical music chamber orchestra based in New York City, known for its collaborative leadership style, in which the musicians, not a conductor, interpret the score. This is what, among other things, Hackman writes about Orpheus:

Members are not treated as equal because in fact that they are not equals: each individual brings special talents and interests to the ensemble and also has some areas of relative disinterest and lesser strengths. Orpheus members recognize that fact and exploit it relentlessly in the interest of collective excellence. The orchestra’s willingness to acknowledge, to respect, and to exploit the individual differences among its members is one of its greatest strengths as a self managing team.

The equality ethos, while not bad or wrong by itself has its limitations. The problem is, it is so entrenched into our thinking, that we export it to areas of life that it has no place in. Have you ever been part of team that needed to make a presentation and the members insisted that everybody speak during the presentation? Nobody asks whether this makes sense or whether this actually hurts the effectiveness of the presentation. No! We are all equal in this team. we all have to participate! That is just a simple example, but it demonstrates how, in places where we don’t have to, we are willing to sacrifice performance for artificial equality.

Are you sacrificing performance for artificial equality?


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