LISTEN NOW! WATCH FULL PROGRAM! It is important to remember that we, as the Church, are like a vine and not like a flower pot. Charles Simpson wrote a powerful book about this reality: Ants, Vines, and Churches. We are called to be a vine but we choose to live like a flower pot, putting the walls of pews around us. Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches. It’s so important to rediscover who we are called to be and how we are called to relate and communicate with one another. It seems as if corporations are leaving the “Organizational” format and moving towards the “Relational” format, while the Church is leaving the “Relational” format and moving into the “Organizational” format. Considering this very paradigm, Margaret Heffernan discusses a revealing discovery in the simple observation in a recent Ted Talk of chickens and how we can learn from them when applying these observations to our relationships.
Heffernan begins with a scientific approach as she highlights how an evolutionary biologist at Purdue University was researching productivity. His direction to find his desired results? Studying chickens. As Heffernan puts it, “it’s easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs”. In this study, the biologist had two groups: one group of average chickens that he left alone for six generations, and the other comprised of the most “productive” chickens. “You could call them super chickens and he put them together in a super flock in each generation he selected only the most productive for breeding”. After six generations, he looked at both of these flocks and the results were staggering.
The first group of average chickens were progressing along just fine and growing quite healthily. The group of Super Chickens? Not so much. “They had pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.” Surprising? Some would say no as they can see a comparison to many realities in their own life. As Heffernan has shared this study in many of her speeches and talks, she has been surprised at the comments that she has been told by her audience. “That’s my company. That’s my country. Well that’s my life all my life I’ve been told that the way we have to get ahead is to compete.” As Heffernan has started and ran her own successful company contrary to the “Super Chickens” mindset, she is fascinated as to why we teach this mindset in our society.
Heffernan describes her observations of how many organizations choose the “Super Chickens” mindset. “We thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest men or occasionally women in the room, and giving them all the resources and all the power.” But, the results were the same as Purdue University found. “Aggression. Dysfunction. And Waste.” Heffernan makes her own observations of our society. “If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”
Heffernan doesn’t stop with the simple observation of the needed change. She then begins to ask what does make productivity greater in some groups when compared to others. She points to an MIT study that sought to find this out. Again, their findings were quite surprising. As in many studies, some groups produced better than others. It was the focusing on the “more productive” groups that revealed certain characteristics. For starters, “the high achieving groups were not those where they had one or two people with a spectacularly high IQ nor were the most successful groups the ones that had the highest aggregate IQ”. Heffernan begins to describe the three characteristics that the “more productive” groups did have.
“First of all they showed high degrees of social sensitivity to each other”. As Heffernan further describes this observation by pointing to “empathy”, this is what each of these groups scored high in. When groups displayed high empathy for one another, they in turn, would display the second highest characteristic. “The successful groups gave roughly equal time to each other.” And lastly, “The more successful groups had more women in them.” Looking at all of these observations, Heffernan points to one encompassing trait that increases the success of a group, “their social connectedness to each other”. To have a study is one thing, but to apply in our daily lives, in reality, is an entirely different matter. Heffernan comments, “It means that what happens between people really counts because in groups that are highly attuned and sensitive to each other ideas can flow and grow, people don’t get stuck, they don’t waste energy down dead ends.” Applying this reality, Heffernan describes how one engineering firm that was preparing a project for an upcoming Olympic event, was able to solve the problem in a single day. We cannot know all the answers, but when we reach out to others, we have immediate exponential possibilities of how our problems can be solved.
Heffernan further describes this observation with these words, “Helpfulness means I don’t have to know everything. I just have to work among people who are good at getting and giving help.” She further describes how a technology company gathered that “helpfulness is people getting to know each other.” She reaches back from her own observations when she ran her first software company. After hiring the brilliant employees that she did, the results were far less than she had hoped. “I gradually realized the brilliant creative people that I hired didn’t know each other; they were so focused on their own individual work they didn’t even know who they were sitting next to.” It was then that Heffernan realized that some changes were in order. “Only when I insisted that we stopped working and invest in getting to know each other that we achieved real momentum.”
As she points out, it takes team collaboration and communication for businesses to rise to the occasion, and overcome the odds. “When the going gets tough, and it will get tough, if you’re doing breakthrough work that really matters, what people need is social support and they need to know who to ask for help.” It’s the ideas that are born from individuals, not the company that allows the company to thrive and succeed. “Companies don’t have ideas. Only people do; and what motivates people are the bond and loyalty and trust they develop between each other.”
We can even take all these observations and experiences a step further. Heffernan explains; “Now when you put all of this together what you get is something called ‘social capital’. Social capital is the reliance into dependency that builds trust.” Heffernan continues, “Social capital is what gives companies momentum and social capital is what makes companies robust.” Now that we have made this observation, how do we apply it practically? “…time is everything, because social capital compounds with time. So teams that work together longer get better because it takes time to develop the trust you need for real candor and openness.”
As often as our culture points to money as a driving force of motivating their teams and individuals, Heffernan describes how a motivation, such as money, brings the opposite effects. “For decades, we’ve tried to motivate people with money even though we’ve got a vast amount of research that shows that money erodes social connectedness.” She additionally points out how we must reconsider how we view leadership. Instead of putting our high achievers out in front, it is the collaboration of the team that brings about the greatest achievements and successes.
It seems as if the world is figuring out what we, as the Church, need to revisit and understand again. If we are to visit a local coffee shop, their atmosphere is a relational-conversational atmosphere. As Heffernan points to ‘social capital’, it seems as if this is what the Church is lacking. There are no superstars in family. It appears as if the Church has left the paradigm of family and transitioned to the corporate atmosphere.
See the full discussion about Margaret Heffernan’s observations, see her full speech, as well as how important it is for the Church to walk as family as God called us to be, and so much more. Also shared in this segment: Vine Seminars, relationships, the coffee machine, profits, empathy, support, intelligence, pecking orders, affluence, gardens, generations, problem-solving, genders, and interpersonal relationships. Greg and Steve shared in this segment.
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