Competition and Creativity

So many applications to this concept - church/home/education . . . Anywhere there is group cooperation toward a goal. . .

"For genuine creativity and collaboration to flourish inside organizations, the people who work there need to be rested, alert, and able to trust one another. But notwithstanding the physical and ethical costs implicit in pitting employees against one another, many large corporations take internal competition one step further and formalize it into forced rankings, a process by which all employees are placed in a strict pecking order so that the bottom 10 or 15 percent can be eliminated.

The system was made famous by Jack Welch at GE, where every year the workforce was forced into ranks of the top 20 percent, the middle 70 percent, and the bottom 10 percent—who could be let go. Welch argued that the system was kind because it gave the bottom ranks plenty of warning that they were failing. In various permutations, the same concept is still applied, by some estimates, in half of the Fortune 500 companies. AIG divides people into five ranks, GlaxoSmithKline into four, Lending Tree into three. Advocates of forced ranking argue that the system rewards outstanding performers. But what none of these companies seem to appreciate is that forced ranking creates levels of competitiveness and distrust between individuals that make the system uncreative—a human equivalent of the Purdue chickens.

Puzzling over the curious failure of Microsoft to develop any truly innovative technologies for over a decade, the writer Kurt Eichenwald found that every single employee he interviewed cited “stack ranking” (the company’s version of forced ranking) as the most destructive process inside the company, driving out untold numbers of bright people.

“It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies,” a former
software developer told Eichenwald. 32 Top-notch developers did not want to work with other strong performers because doing so would risk their ranking. As a consequence, jobs were secure to the degree that people surrounded themselves with pleasers who would never pose a challenge or a threat. By putting all of its employees in a constant state of threat, Microsoft didn’t inspire ambition for excellence but a prevailing desire for safety.

“People do everything they can to stay out of the bottom bucket,” one Microsoft engineer said. “People will openly sabotage other people’s efforts. One of the most valuable things I learned was to give the appearance of being courteous while withholding just enough information from colleagues to ensure they didn’t get ahead of me on the rankings.” 33"

Margaret Heffernan in A Bigger Prize

Constanzia Hooker