- By Ian Bradley
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I thought that my childhood was relatively normal as a semi-serious student with interests in a variety of school sports with an appropriate dose of ‘leisure” activities that my parents thought worrisome such as spending far too many hours in pool halls. Perhaps it was a Toronto-thing but I also remember a rather strange competition in my peer group to derive the longest word in the English language. For some reason, “dialecticalmaterialism” won.
At the time, I had no idea what it meant, but somehow it achieved acclaimed status in my group as the winning word. Of course, no one in grade 7 took Poli Sci, and no one realized that dialectical was an adjective derived from dialectic and that the whole Marxist concept didn’t fit with the trendy character of the neighbourhood.
However, the word dialectic – the manifestation of metaphysical contradictions- remained with me and resurfaces on regular occasions. The last being last week when I was consulting to a medium-sized business regarding succession planning,-specifically which member in the current executive team will ultimately occupy the CEO chair.
Of course, one could mitigate the problem by assuming that there will be two CEO chairs – a Blackberryish solution of questionable history- but let’s assume that there is just one chair but two strong contenders.
Who wins, and how?
The issue for me is not unique but rather a commonly encountered issue in the domain of professional sports. As a psychologist working with MLS soccer and NHL hockey players I’ve witnessed how athletes struggle with the key dialectic of being the best for themselves while at the same time being the best for the team. In other words, professional athletes must balance individual competition and team cooperation.
The cooperation is clear. Passing the puck rather than shooting, back checking, encouraging teammates are all part of the cooperation – you play your role, the team wins.
But, I’ve seen enough third and fourth line hockey players to know that they’re dying to get on the first or second line. Similarly, I’ve never seen a professional soccer players on the bench who secretly wish that a starter might falter and thus provide an opportunity to break into the line-up.
In sports as in business, we have an important dialectic to balance individual achievement and team success. If the cooperation fails, the team loses; if the individual fire is not present, the career trajectory is limited.
In some business cases as well as in sports, the solution might also seem paradoxical – helping your colleagues, being seen as someone with whom people like to work, as well as seeing the more macro, less egocentric picture, are all tools that will foster individual success. In other words; cooperation leads to getting ahead!
By the way, apparently the longest word in English is
I have no idea what it means.