Thursday, January 29, 2004

Competition and Peer Pressure

Why do people not strive for excellence? There are sometimes social pressures involved. Think of stroppy gangs of schoolchildren, and the social pressures that sometimes militate against excellence in many schools. Parents fight to get their children into "hothouse" schools, where pupils compete for academic excellence - although the psychological pressures in these schools can also be damaging - even for the ones who get top exam results and good university places.

That's what came into my mind when I read Bill's piece yesterday about the Escalation Phase. Executives compete with one another for recognition, the best jobs, the plummest directorships - but it's often a rather closed world in which the greatest risk is to be cut off from your peers. There are some covert rules of behaviour, which may inhibit genuine excellence.

One of the purposes of the Baldrige and EQA is to create a kind of corporate hothouse, in which some self-selected companies compete for a prize. Obviously not everyone can win. There have been some studies of the corporate success of past winners; it would also be interesting to know about the other entrants. (It is possible that competing in such a competition might cause a misdirection of management attention and an excess of organizational stress. There is always a downside risk of competing - you might lose.)

The fact is, however, that the vast majority of companies do not consider that such competitions are for them. Instead, the executives sit at the back of the class, whispering to one another, throwing ink pellets at the class swot and ignoring the teacher.

Boy have they got a shock coming ...