Replacing the ‘I win, you lose’ mentality with an understanding of the benefits of collaboration, is the key to solving both our personal and social problems, says Lynne McTaggart
At the end of the second world war, my father designed a revolutionary kind of heating system for all the new homes being built for returning veterans. In order to fund the start-up, he found two partners willing to invest. They would handle the sales and finance, while he would focus on the designs and shop floor.
Dad’s business rapidly took off and year after year, he and my mother enjoyed the fruits of increasing prosperity: a speedboat, a second car, a second home. By 1970, one partner had died and Dad’s remaining partner was growing ill. The company began to founder badly.
After the remaining partner died and my father took over, he discovered the reason: two sets of accounting books, the official one for my father, and another revealing the truth about the other two partners’ drawings. Before the business got bought for a song, the hefty life insurance on the company’s directors was still in place. The partner’s widow landed a million dollars, while my father, by then in his mid-fifties, had to find work among his company’s rivals. When I returned home from college one summer, the second car and house were gone, and the house in Ridgewood he and my mother had built from scratch was up for sale.
Dad never stopped believing that he could do it all over again. On a trip to Florida, he saw another problem that needed a solution – the damage done to small pleasure boats continuously kept in the water. My parents moved to Florida, where my father set to work designing an ingenious boat lift that would scoop boats up and out of the water with just a push of a button.
During a particularly stifling summer’s day, while welding one of the prototypes, he fainted. The welding rod in his hand fell on his face, killing him instantly. Unlike his old partner, he died without life insurance. The new policy he’d meant to sign that evening was sitting on his bedroom chest of drawers.
The trajectory of my family’s life was defined by unfairness. Like too many other people who buy into our current set of rules, my father’s American dream turned into an American nightmare. It’s a nightmare that happens every day, with no rescue for anyone who happens to get pushed off the wagon train.
My own experience has convinced me that fixing the many problems that now beset us requires nothing less than ripping up our rulebook and starting afresh, based on something other than every man for himself.
The key to achieving this rebirth, to improving your relationships, your neighborhood, your town or city, and even to successfully tackling the many crises now facing our world, lies in reframing the core belief that underpins every aspect of our society: ‘I win, you lose.’
This mistaken belief, that winning equals winning over someone else, is the greatest cancer of our time, accounting for every single one of the crises we face in the west. Other than on the sports field, the competitive mindset is probably the greatest impediment to progress.
The latest research shows that students, employees, managers, business owners, couples, and neighbors are happier, healthier, and far more productive when they work together in collaborative ways. Schools that use cooperative learning, where A students work side by side with C students, produce better results than do those schools that group children by ability and have them compete for grades or constantly strive to improve their own personal best. Collaborative solutions at work consistently outperform those in which companies rate individual performances against each other.
As a success coach hired by Microsoft, the best-selling author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack Canfield, observed that Microsoft’s practice of creating small internal competitive ‘silos’, vying against each other for performance and rewarded, or punished for their individual success or failure, created such a climate of fear that it actually hampered innovation and lost the company market share.
This company policy stood in stark contrast to the corporate climate at Google, one of its major competitors. Individuals were encouraged to work as a team, were offered the time and space for collective brainstorming, and were rewarded for the entire group’s effort. By removing a culture of naked-claw competition, Google not only created happier employees but ultimately began to produce better results.
The change of emphasis in our relationships and our society from ‘me’ to ‘we’ will not erode individual rights, ability, achievement, freedom of expression, or ownership in any way. Nor will it require that we relinquish our hard-earned cash or possessions, repudiate our economic system, or overturn our democratic way of life. The only practice we will give up is the need to strive for individual achievement at another person’s expense. That mindset in itself is flagrantly anti-individual and undemocratic: somebody’s individual rights always get trampled in ‘I win, you lose’ scenarios.
If we are to prosper, individually and collectively, each of us must wipe clean our mental hard drives of the sense of scarcity, lack, competition, and extreme individualism with which we are now programmed. To do this we have to challenge the very assumptions and thought processes on which those concepts and assumptions are based.
A good starting place is to replace the model inspired by economist Adam Smith of ‘we do best for society by looking out for number one’ with the idea that our own best response in any situation is to choose what is best not simply for ourselves but also for the rest of the group.
The power of us
Most of the research on self-talk – the internal monologue people use to psych themselves up before a performance – has focused on internal affirmations and pep talks about “I” in order to build up personal confidence. But a group of researchers at Michigan State University decided to test what happens to individual performance when participants concentrate their self-talk on the group’s performance as a whole. They randomly assigned eighty participants in a dart-throwing contest to one of three groups. The first group used self-talk statements that focused on each individual’s own ability and performance; the second used internal conversation that emphasized the group’s capabilities and performance; and the third, the controls, simply maintained neutral thoughts.
When the Michigan researchers tallied the results, both personal confidence and performance were highest in those focusing on group affirmations. Those using group-oriented self-talk displayed more confidence in the team but also performed better as individuals.
This study has enormous implications for every aspect of our lives because it shows that focusing on the group’s efforts naturally raises everyone’s game. Just thinking “we” helps “I” do better.
Adopting this new paradigm in your dealings with others will encourage you to overcome your internal ‘I win, you lose’ programming and become a change agent at home and at work.
Lynne McTaggart will be speaking at the Conference for Consciousness and Human Evolution in London on 23-25 August 2013. Her forthcoming book is titled The Bond: The Power of Connection, published by Hay House.
Photo title: Lynne McTaggart
Photo credit: © Stuart Conway