Thursday, May 08, 2008

FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM

Isn't it weird that in a culture that prides itself on freedom, so many of us daily fight to free ourselves from the bondage that capitalism often creates.

If that thought resonates with you, then you'll enjoy another great article by Patrick Lencioni this month. They haven't yet posted the whole thing to his website, but I'll tease you with part of what he e-mailed earlier last month to those who subscribe:

The Danger of More Shiny New Things

I‘m sure it‘s natural for people to be fascinated with acquiring new things. Whether we‘re talking about physical possessions like homes or cars or toys, or more conceptual assets like knowledge or technology or business strategies, we seem to highly value what we don‘t have, especially when it is novel.

I suppose this is understandable—even good—in a society that values progress and innovation. However, there is a cost to overemphasizing and over-valuing all things new, a cost that goes beyond obvious concerns about greed and over-consumption. When we are in constant pursuit of acquiring more of the latest and greatest, we usually diminish or dilute the power of what we already have.

My twin boys turn ten years old this month, and as I ponder what gift to give them, I realize that what they probably need more than anything is more time to play with the things they already have, things they haven‘t begun to fully use or enjoy. Giving them something new may not make them much happier, and may actually cause them distress. You‘ve seen this dilemma on Christmas morning as your children sit in the midst of their own FAO Schwartz store, slipping into a toy-overload coma, overwhelmed by the choices they have and seemingly unable to process it all. If you‘re like me, you probably chastised yourself and vowed to your spouse that “next year we should give them just ONE present.”

This same phenomenon affects us as leaders of organizations too. But rather than toys, the objects of our desire usually involve knowledge or information. Most leaders I work with grow bored easily, and are in constant pursuit of strategies, ideas, trends—even employees—that will somehow transform their organizations. Unfortunately, they haven‘t come close to fully tapping the strategies, ideas, trends or employees that they already have, and yet they discard those untapped assets in exchange for new ones.

On a personal level, I‘ve experienced this phenomenon too. I‘ve recently come to the conclusion that I should stop reading so many new books and magazine articles. Instead, I should go retrieve the top ten books and articles that I‘ve already read, and start re-reading them again and again. After all, I‘ve forgotten most of what I‘ve learned in those books, and I‘m certainly not using or tapping into more than a fraction of what they have to offer. Instead, I‘m pursuing more and more new material, which only crowds out the space in my brain to recall and put to use the tried and true goodness of what I‘ve already learned.

Why do we do this? Perhaps we want to stay current. Or we don‘t want to feel out of touch. But I think it is based more in pride of knowing things than in real pursuit of excellence, integrity and discipline.

2 comments:

KS,  9:38 AM  

Uh....what you're concerned about is probably materialism, not capitalism. Capitalism is a social system based on individual rights where all property is privately owned and operated for profit etc. Materialism is probably best defined as collecting material goods as a priority.
I have to agree we certainly don't need more "things" in our lives but I would have to respectfully disagree that capitalism is the cause of wanting more "things", its our own greed, pride and such.

brian c. berry 10:11 AM  

Perhaps materialism is the word that best describes what I was speaking about.

But it seems to me that materialism also thrives in a capitalistic environment, more so than in many other government/social systems. Every system has it's ills. I'd say materialism is the natural ill not only of the sins you mentioned, but perhaps is also one of the very things that makes capitalism thrive. If we take away materialism, much of our capitalism would cease to work. Hence, the reason our government is giving people $300 each to spend on stuff to keep the economy going.

I'm no economic expert, but I think my Christian beliefs have to clash even with some of what makes the capitalism machine run too.

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