Wednesday 9 November 2016

#CIPDACE16 Margaret Heffernan on Social Capital

Maraget Heffernan has been keynoting at this year's CIPD conference this morning.

She has some great ideas and interesting research on and around social capital published in her books, A Bigger Prize and Beyond Measure. These focus largely on the increasing need for collaboration rather than competition.

She puts a lot of our current focus on competition down to the role of testosterone which can lead to aggression, dominance, poor judgement and weaker emotional intelligence. It also impairs our ability to infer people's intentions and emotional states. Most importantly research shows testosterone causes a decrease in the capability of collaborative groups. In men it rises when we are challenged and again if we win, but it falls if we loses. This creates a hormonal feedback loop in which those who need power get it and continue to demand more power. This doesn't happen in women as testosterone levels do not rise to challenge.

The effect depends on nurture as well as nature. Low power distance societies such as Finland, New Zealand and Austria tie power to expertise and in particular the ability to secure the participation and collaboration of others rather than status and dominance. For example their tax systems act to reduce income differentials.

In the US, UK etc we are told we have to compete to be successful, but this has negative consequences too. It's like Heffernan's CIPD session and TED talk comparing super-chickens with an average group in which the individually productive chickens succeeded by suppressing the productivity of the rest. This superflock is like a lot of our companies. But managing by pecking order and giving organisation superstars all the resources and power mainly creates aggression, dysfunction and waste.

We need a better way to work and a richer way to live.

I love and support Heffernan's work though I don't think it offers much direction to
HR or our organisations. My own book The Social Organization will be out next Summer and will show how companies can build success on a collaborative approach.

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