Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Superhero Culture: Our Grown-Up Teenage Addiction

I know a little about smoking. My mother smoked her whole life. It eventually killed her. I never did understand the grip it had on my mother and those like her until I read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.
Teenage smoking is one of the great, baffling phenomena of modern life. No one really knows how to fight it, ore even, for that matter, what it is.
Gladwell goes on to point out that education has not been effective. In fact, it is not that teenagers don't understand the dangers. In fact, they believe smoking to be more dangerous than it is.

Now what has this got to do with product development you might ask? Well, it seems as product development teams we have a similar addiction that affects our ability to deliver value and create a sustainable pace. Despite the best efforts of Covey and others to educate us we continue to multi-task, constantly change priorities and work our most valued contributors to the point of exhaustion. We know the hidden costs. It is not that we lack intelligence, in fact some of our most ambitious and driven companies seem to be where this culture is most pervasive. Why do we do it? Why do we continue to reinforce the superhero culture? Gladwell provides clues to the answer.

The significance of the smoking personality cannot be overstated, If you bundle all these extrovert's traits together you come up with an almost perfect definition of the kind of person many adolescents are drawn to. Maggie, Pam and Billy were all deeply cool people but they weren't cool because they smoked. They smoked because they were cool. Smoking was never cool. Smokers are cool.

We know the superhero culture is bad for us but it persists. It persists because we want to feel needed, we want to feel indispensable. We find it easier to be reactive than proactive. We love the sense of urgency and get a buzz from putting in the extra hours and saving the day. But most of all we persist the culture because the people we look up to and aspire to be got where they are through being superheroes.

No comments: