Friday, May 18, 2012

Small gap, big difference

This week, there was a hubbub on the internet about this talk by Nick Hanauer (multimillionaire venture capitalist), who did a brief TED talk—"Ideas Worth Spreading"—and was dismayed when TED, well, chose not to spread it via its popular web site. In my opinion, the speaker is not engaging and the talk is not very unique, simply not TED quality. However, the rejected speaker took his displeasure to the National Review, which accused TED of deciding that the issue of income inequality was "too hot" to handle. TED claimed that the talk was rejected for being "explicitly partisan," having "unconvincing" arguments, and receiving "mediocre ratings," which is just as inauthentic as the National Review's clearly sensational slant, since the talk is not partisan (both parties are accused), the talk received a standing ovation, and lots of the brief 3-minute TED talks have unconvincing arguments simply due to time constraints. Both sides were a little shady. Both sides have received HUGE exposure, much more than they would have received otherwise. I suppose exposure is what both TED and Hanauer want, ultimately, and it was fun to participate in the online debate, so I guess everybody won.

Where I won especially, though, is following a link embedded in the online battle to a similar, more substantial TED talk by Richard Wilkinson, a noteworthy economic researcher and professor. He presents a variety of data to demonstrate how the larger the economic gap within a developed country, the bigger the negative impact on health, lifespan, and other critical outcomes for the entire society.

I propose that a similar phenomenon occurs within corporations: The more pronounced the hierarchical gap between leadership and employees, the more dysfunctional the organization; small gap, big difference.  

Information Wilkinson cited about the physiological response to stress was particularly interesting:

"Threats to self-esteem or social status in which others can negatively judge your performance…have a very particular [negative, substantially higher] physiological response [than other stressors]…"

Perhaps this relates to our current do-substantially-more-with-substantially-less work environment:

Could fear of being downsized as substantially more is being asked of a smaller workforce be driving up stress at an astounding rate, more than we might expect?

• If sustained stress makes us stupid, what are the implications to business of this high-stress work environment created by continuing economic challenges?

• Does your particular work environment support or defeat productivity and innovation?

• How can we improve the working environment for increased productivity and innovation?

What do you think?

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