Mark Hollander reminds us that life is not a meritocracy.
According to Hollander, your success depends upon a combination of:
- Who you know
- How good you are at what you do
- How many people know that you're that good
I tend to agree with Mark, but there's a huge difference across countries.
In the US, we're talking about success. In other countries, we could be talking about survival.
Countries in which cultural and religious traditions dominate are even less likely to be meritocracies. My prime example is India. You can't make it in India without "connections." I know people who have left India to achieve success and then went back and set up successful businesses. Had they not left India for the meritocracies of the West, they would not have succeeded.
The question I have is where do meritocracies flourish? What are the conditions necessary for a meritocracy to take hold in business? in public office?
It all hinges on performance. If performance becomes the key driver of sucess, like it does in sports, for example, then meritocracy should be the rule. And to a large extent it is. But even in sports, success is not assured. A superstar performer has to learn how to play with his teammates, even the ones who are jealous and want him to fail.
What astounds me is that we are so petty. Across the globe, pettiness trumps sound decision-making almost every time. From politics to sports, it is our social ability or "people skills" which makes all the difference. And these skills can be taught. As a society, we've got to be careful about what we're teaching our kids.
Kissing-up is one of those surprisingly important skills they don't teach you at Harvard Business School.
Thank goodness I work for myself. I failed "Butt-Kissing 101"...