Elitism – in business – in life

If you have been reading these posts so far, you probably have figured out that I am anti-elitist. That does not mean I don’t believe in leadership – to the contrary – I do.

That is what entrepreneurship is all about. The real leaders rise to the top. In business, in politics, and in life. What I am ‘anti-‘ is the idea of presuming that a certain class – or a certain ‘club’ – has a lock on leadership because it is privileged.

In politics, I am actually a federalist. That is because, while I do agree with the premise of James Surowieci’s The Wisdom of Crowds – the idea that the mass of society, taken as a whole and on a level playing field, is smarter than the experts (or the elites) – I do believe that those who arise to actually do the work of leading are a smaller group – hence federalism. However, I believe that those leaders should come out ‘wherever’ – not out of the pre-established circles that tradition has vetted.

More about politics in another post.

Let’s talk about business. Let’s also talk about the media (of which I am one). Let’s talk about life in general.

There is a curious crowd dynamic in societies which viewed from a distance looks hilarious. I think it is a dynamic best observed in an American High School. I call it the “Reindeer Games.” Remember poor Rudolf? They used to laugh and call him names. They wouldn’t let him join in their ‘reindeer games.’ It didn’t matter that they would someday desperately need him to guide the sleigh. It didn’t matter that he was more open than they, more receptive to new ideas, and more innovative. What mattered was that he was not like them.

That is the dynamic. There is a huge tendency in groups towards conformity and towards the development of an establishment ‘elite’ which protects that conformity. What is worse is that this attitude is not openly discussed much – it is assumed. If you do not join with the group in the (group) assumptions, well, you were either not cool, stupid, a throw-back, or something else unwanted by the group.

Come on – you remember high school?

What then develops is a certain power in the hands of the elites – who work with the group and convince the group of two things: 1) That the group really needs them (the elites) – and “…if you play it right, someday you too may be cool!” 2) That the elite really deserve to be the elite.

Let’s apply this to business. Have you run into any conformist clubs in the business world? Do you have any problems bringing your ideas to market sitting around a table of the super-cool ‘elite?’

Let’s apply it to media. Have any in the media gotten the idea that by some curious twist of fate, they can interpret better, understand better, explain better or frame an issue better than someone not in the media? Even more – do you ever have the feeling that the media tries to preserve a certain may of looking at things and a conformity to a worldview that may not be the worldview of many of the people they are speaking with?

Let’s talk about life. Do you have the urge to be a leader yourself? Do you feel you have things to say but are afraid to say them, thinking they either will not be heard or will be ridiculed? Do you feel trapped in a way of life that you would really rather change, but feel the tide is against you?

That is what I am talking about. I do not blame it on any group – elitism happens naturally – it is a tenant of human nature. But true leaders always have to strive against it, and seek out true and the real values in life in an environment of rabid conformity.

Surowieci begins his book with the story of the British scientist Francis Galton. Galton was an elitist. He believed “…that only a very few people had the characteristics necessary to keep societies healthy” (from the book’s introduction). He was also a famous geneticist. He believed these vital leadership traits were genetically coded and passed down through generations. Hence – he supported the British aristocracy – an ‘elite’ if there ever was one. He set about to prove his assumptions – with statistics – and measuring the inaccuracies in the knowledge set of a crowd of people.

He found out something, statistically.

He was dead wrong.

I’ll post a lot more on this book in the next post – semi-daily now :-)

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