The Upside Of Pride

The infamous Lance Armstrong, “winner” of seven consecutive Tour de France cycling events, lied and fooled millions of people into supporting his cause and into admiring him, repeatedly insisting that he did not cheat to win, cheated in such a complex, scheming and convoluted way that it took years before anyone had solid proof to question his winnings.

Only years later did he later share with Oprah Winfrey on her show that he cheated big time and was gaining unfair advantage with the use of high-tech doping methods. He went on admit that at the time when he was committing those acts he actually felt no remorse or guilt for lying to his fans and cheating in the competitions. In essence, he was saying that he felt entitled to those wins regardless of how he got it. Pride, in its ugliest and mutated form, surfaced from the inner demons of one Lance Armstrong.

Truth be told, to say the least, we are human after all. If I could opine, every human strength, when overdone, would become a weakness. Creativity without boundaries become unrealistic flights of fancy. A realist who pays too much attention to facts and numbers might become uninspiring and rigid in thought. A team that grows in pride after repeated successes may produce arrogance if pride is left unchecked. Worse still, a leader who had the luxury of leading his team towards achievement after achievement may start believing he is entitled to success. Then when new team members under him fail to perform, he sees their failures as a smudge on his ‘perfect’ track record, which may result in him berating and humiliating those subordinates.

Indeed too much of a good thing reveals the darker human soul. Such false, hubristic pride in all its forms kills all previous personal or team accomplishments and victories. Although one can be forgiven for being too prideful, such as in the case of Armstrong, ‘good’ pride can be harnessed to better team results and especially during times of barren fruits. Positive pride can invigorate and inject life into an organisation.  But as odd as it sounds, to explore this notion further, let us think like a consumer for a little while and ask ourselves the reasons behind our purchasing decisions.

What do you consider when you buy something? Say a bookshelf. Cost? Aesthetics? Functionality?

Maybe you’re a buyer whose decision-making determinant depends largely on convenience and surely it is a vital factor in the purchase of most everyday products. Unsurprisingly, convenience is a business philosophy that many a product development team out there would swear by as they seek to satisfy consumers by making their lives easier and less burdensome.

From the invention of the aeroplane that expedited traveling to such an exponential extent to Internet speeds that have always been increasing and that have just crossed the one-gigabyte per second mark, we simply want all things fast and available as much as possible.

But strangely when instant cake mixes were introduced to the market in the 1950s with the intention of simplifying the life of the American housewife by minimising manual labour, the target consumer - those very housewives whose daily plate of chores was already almost full, resisted the easy-to-use cake mixes. While other mixes, like those for pie crusts and cookies were selling well, the ones for cake just didn’t fly off the shelves as predicted. The housewives were just so particularly and peculiarly reticent about using instant cake mixes, which only required adding water.

Why?

As food writer Laura Shapiro hypothesised in her book Something from the Oven, although cookies and pie crusts are important, they are not a self-contained dish. Cookies are often ‘customised’ with bits of chocolate or nuts while pie crusts are well...just pie crusts where the main ingredient of the pie, be it apple or meat, has to be made and added. A housewife could gladly receive a compliment on a dish that included a cookie or pie crust mix – a purchased component. But when an entire cake can be created without much work, when a dish that is often served by itself and carries great emotional significance during special celebrations can be done up at a snap of a finger; the sense of creation dissipates along with that mighty ounce of pride. Pooof!

However absurd it sounds, the impression that we make purchase decisions based on the economic rationale of convenience can be so flawed. It appears that seated deep in our psyche, we would still prefer to enjoy an element of control, a feeling that if we are given an opportunity to create, to build, to lead, to design something, anything, we would seize it, complete it and savour that unquantifiable fruit of our labour – pride.

Clearly, such a discovery can and has made an impact on the way certain products are marketed to consumers. Pillsbury, a brand that is synonymous with cake mixes, for instance, deliberately left out eggs in its mix and required women to add fresh eggs, coupled with milk and oil, to the mix and unsurprisingly, sales took off. On the other hand, IKEA, the global furniture juggernaut, prides itself with low prices due to its flat packaging methods and self-selection shopping experience; which has it emphasising these as its success factors, but now we know of a more subtle, psychological reason.

In the area of organisation development, pride is obviously a direct consequence of goal attainment. We know that if left unrestrained, it might mutate into its uglier cousins of arrogance and complacency, but more crucially, pride should also be activated during periods of ‘goal droughts’ as a motivation propeller. When the desired team target becomes hazy due to economic circumstances or other unforeseen conditions, the team must be reminded of its achievements to that point no matter how insignificant they are, in order for morale to be pulled up to initial levels. Positivity must be infused into potentially demoralising situations to keep spirits up.

Daniel Mochon, a pride researcher at Yale University once remarked, "Imagine that, you know, you built a table...maybe it came out a little bit crooked. Probably your wife or your neighbour would see it for what it is, you know? A shoddy piece of workmanship. But to you that table might seem really great, because you're the one who created it. It's the fruit of your labour.”

Often we think that love leads to labour but quite evidently, labour can lead to love as well. And if love is but a manifestation of pride, then it can be concluded that the human ego is very vulnerable. Sometimes it is not so much about what we say but when and how we say things that can inspire others at work.    

Don't you think so?

How else can we build pride at the workplace?


Article by Andy Pan, the Director of Training at Right Impact Training

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