Self-Defeating Selfishness: How Win/Lose Thinking Creates Innovation Fatigue and Failure

The world of many two-year-olds and far too many business leaders seems to be dominated by one word: “MINE.” Like the seagulls in the old Disney movie, Finding Nemo, everything within reach is a potential casualty for the chanters of “MINE, MINE, MINE.” Their business model seems to work: kids get what they want much of the time, the birds get fed, and business leaders get their way. But none of these creatures are who we should look to for real leadership and innovation.

Innovation and real success in business requires attention to one’s ecosystem, the network of partners and other players that participate in your business. If you neglect these relationships or abuse them, you can destroy the willingness of these partners to help you succeed or to share valuable knowledge and ideas that can be essential to innovation. Selfishness and business narcissism are ultimately self-defeating. Healthy business requires a healthy ecosystems with partners who trust you and are motivated to help you succeed. Squeezing every last penny out of your partners and suppliers doesn’t do that.

The automotive industry in the U.S provides a painful example of self-defeating selfishness. Here’s an insight from commentator Roger Wiegand in his recent article, “Gimme a Job“:

Another largely unreported statistic says that for every auto job lost, six more auto supplier company jobs vanish as well. We all know what a major role the auto industry plays in the economy. For most consumers a house is the largest asset and cars are next in line.

The amount of jobs lost within the big three is just the tip of the iceberg. Suppliers are filing bankruptcy right and left. The bigger question then becomes: How can the remnants of suppliers produce parts to build all those cars? Suppliers are not earning any money. The Big Three has crushed them with their own problems.

Both GM and Ford have had to buy back spun-off parts companies just to ensure mandatory parts delivery to build their cars. They have either helped them with millions-billions in fresh cash, or in fact bought back their parts suppliers outright. Even the premium, top drawer parts suppliers are filing bankruptcy.

The Big Three has historically treated their suppliers like economic enemies. The Asian manufacturers take the view their suppliers are their partners and work out problems together to ensure quality and that everybody makes a profit. If your suppliers fail you fail with them. The Big Three has never seen the light on this get-along notion.

Treating suppliers as economic enemies – treating any partner as an economic enemy, including one’s own employees – is a short-sighted approach that can reap economic benefits for a time while casting a magic spell of doom over one’s future.

The blinders imposed by greed and selfishness makes sufferers of these ailments miss the rich opportunities that can be created by win/win attitudes and a generous heart. Further, it makes would-be leaders far less likely to actually lead and influence others, and more likely to create enemies and opposition.

Scientific data supports an important conclusion that is counter-intuitive to the practitioners or greed: generosity and kindness create success. Those who refrain from the mantra of “MINE, MINE” and think of the well-being of others are not only more likely to have economic success, but also to gain credibility and success as leaders. This is borne out by significant bodies of data, as discussed by Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, in his recent speech, “Why Giving Matters.” I consider this a must-read article.

Brooks discusses the surprising results born out by extensive data showing that the act of giving, whether it be charitable donations, volunteering time, or even giving blood, leads to increased economic success. Part of the reason is that this more selfless approach makes a person happier, and happier people do better in work, in managing relationships, and in many aspects of productivity. People who give also gain respect and credibility from others, which enhances their ability to lead and inspire. I would add that people who are willing to help others and be kind are more likely to not ignore the needs of partners, more likely to not alienate them by being oppressive and greedy, and more likely to stimulate cooperation and the sharing of ideas.

If you care about innovation and business success, look to yourself first. Do you care about others? Understand and respect their needs? Do you give to charity? Do you inspire trust and respect through your integrity and character? If not, your iron-clad contracts and Draconian negotiating skills will be like cursed relics from a bad mummy movie that only drag you down to a dusty doom.

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