I had the pleasure of seeing the musical “Evita” at the Fox Theater in Atlanta yesterday and though I had seen it before, one particular scene stood out to me. The musical tells the story of Eva Perón, an influential figure in Argentine culture and politics, who died at the age of 33, albeit after a whirlwind life.
The scene I mentioned, “The Art of the Possible” occurs in Act I. It depicts the power struggle between General Perón (Eva’s future husband) and other military figures. The Broadway show employs a game of musical chairs as the metaphor, while this particular performance in Atlanta used a progressive wrestling match (in the form of a dance) between each military figure. In the end in both cases, Perón establishes himself as the victor, by virtue of his superior political strategy and cunning.
The scene summarized much of human experience. These power struggles work out between people in romantic relationships, between employees in companies, between hopeful political candidates as well as between established political bosses. No matter where you look, the wrestling match is playing out. Must it be so? Just because it has been so for a very long time, must we accept it and play by those rules? Or is there another way?
As the CEO of several small companies, I have the opportunity to shape our corporate culture in ways that go far beyond simply making the companies more efficient or competitive. While I do not deny that those two factors are important, I do think there is much more that can be done through the corporate vehicles we have at our disposal in the world today. Companies eat up a lot of man’s time on earth right now, and they are enormously influential on the way the world works, so what not use them to make the world a better place while we’re at it?
Rather than encouraging, rewarding, and praising competitive behaviors in the workplace, why not emphasize cooperation? The competitive spirit is strong, but it must be directed, otherwise it will eventually end up destroying the very fabric of the relationships in a company. I worked as a stock broker early in my professional life and I can assure you that there is nothing appealing about a work environment in which competition reigns supreme. Sure a lot gets done. Sure people will go to almost unbelievable extremes to be the best. But at what cost. Quality of life, happiness, and fulfillment are typically the first three qualities to go, qualities which, I might add, would otherwise thrive in a corporate environment were the individuals who made up the whole to complement rather than exploit one another.
Realizing that this is a social and entrepreneurial experiment, there are risks in taking this approach as there are with any approach. But the results so far are quite encouraging. When people are inspired to work together, to support one another, to balance one another, the cooperative spirit quickly takes hold and takes on a life of its own. I love seeing managers helping one another across might typically be barriers designed to protect a departmental silo. I am thrilled to see interns working on equal footing with full time employees, all of whom are seeking to do anything within their power to make the others around them shine. It’s reassuring that people not only can but prefer to work together in this way. And from a personal standpoint, it’s what makes me smile as I head into work on any given day.
My father-in-law made the comment that sometimes the best stories are the true ones. The story of Eva Duarte de Perón is truly a great one, but wouldn’t it be wonderful were there more stories told about the victory of virtue, because they worked out on that basis through real people, like you and me, facing real challenges together?