Machiavellian Intelligence, by Dr Mark Powell and Jonathan Gifford, explores a new type of intelligence that might be key in gaining access to the top executive positions in your career.
Here, we look at why they believe corporations are not social structures:
We often talk as if the corporations that so many of us work for are in some way natural or organic; that they are ‘communities of like-minded people’ or ‘associations of individuals’ who have come together to pursue a common purpose.
If this were true, the world would arguably be a better place, but it is not true.
Corporations are not ‘communities’ or ‘associations of individuals’. Corporations are legally – and in every practical and philosophical sense – individuals; entities that have a life of their own. They can endure for centuries, outliving many generations of corporate executives, and they can change and adapt in nature, sometimes radically.
Corporations also change in nature as they mature and evolve: many start-ups with a culture of innovation and employee empowerment morph into bureaucratic hierarchies as they grow in size, particularly after the corporation has been launched onto the stock market and has new share- holders to whom it is accountable. This is not because the original, entrepreneurial ‘community’ of employees wanted this to happen; it is because the key servants of the corporation decided that this transition was in the best interests of the corporation and its new shareholders.
Successful corporations can help us all to live a better life by generating wealth. Corporations may choose to look after the people who work for them and treat them well. This is not the point. Corporations are not ‘normal’ social structures, based on community bene t and creating a better life for future generations. Different rules apply.
If you and some like-minded people unite to achieve some common purpose – to dig a well for the bene t of the whole community, for example – then the normal rules of social behaviour will apply. Leaders will emerge and social hierarchies will, as ever, play their part, but you can trust your fellow team members to behave with recognizable humanity. Most people will be compassionate and supportive. Some petty enmities or jealousies may be played out on this little stage, but everyone unites behind the common goal of digging the well. If you work hard, people will thank you. Your community will honour the people who dug the well. There is a relationship between you, your work, and your community. Everyone benefits from the digging of the well; you have come together as a community to make this happen.
There is no such meaningful relationship between you and the corporation, because the corporation is not a community of people: whatever is done for corporations is done for the bene t of the corporation, not for the bene t of the ‘community’. This is not to say that communities of a sort do not exist within corporations. People are, in fact, very keen to create real communities; le to themselves, teams of people within the corporation will tend to become a kind of social group – but they are not a real community. e team owes its existence to the corporation and the tasks that it is set depend entirely on what is seen to be in the best interests of the corporation, not what might be of bene t to the team itself. ere may be a sense of community within the corporation, but this does not indicate the existence of a real community. A real community acts on its own behalf; it does things for the bene t of the community itself. People make accommodations and, occasionally, genuine sacrifices, because this is in everyone’s interest and because, within a community, there is a spirit of altruism and trust. In corporations, everything that is done is in the interest of the corporation, not of its members. Because of this essential disjoint between the interests of the corporation and the in- terests of the people who work for it, people’s relationships to the corporation and to each other, as members of the corporation, are based almost entirely on self-interest.
Machiavellian Intelligence is available here.
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