In our continuing quest to re-brand the Seven Deadly Sins as ‘The Super 7’, we’re ready to tackle Envy. Once you’ve seen how good it can be, you’ll want a bit of it!
Envy – the bringer of imagination?
We tend to focus on Envy as a destructive thing, but psychologists are increasingly realising that Envy also has a benign quality. Even Bertrand Russell (who didn’t have much good to say about it) conceded that Envy could be a positive driving force resulting in beneficial ends.
It is the benign enviousness that I want to explore, because I believe that envy, far from requiring us to hate those who have what we do not have, can urge us to acquire it for ourselves in a way that does good, not harm.
When a poor performing team looks at a high performing team in the same organisation, it’s only right and natural that they should feel aggrieved by what they don’t have. This initial state can then go in a number of directions:
Option A: Ignore the High Performing Team entirely. Option B: Do whatever is possible to trash the High Performing Team. Option C: Learn from what the High Performing Team does in order to also become a HPT.
It is the resulting action that determines whether the envious state was positive or negative. The envious state had no inherent value.
Envy implies that the thing you are envious of has a value. The value may be unique to you, or there may be a broader consensus about its value. Being envious of someone who can drink 10 pints of beer without falling over, isn’t something that I attach great value to. However, I do value the conversational skills of people and their ability to develop instant rapport. I value it, I’m envious of it, I want it, and I work on developing it.
I also envy companies who offer fantastic customer service, produce great quality products, treat their employees with respect, have a social conscience and responsibility, invest in learning and development, have a collaborative working culture, and are agile enough to weather economic storms. For me, the very fact that there are companies out there who do all these things, means that I can use their template, draw on their vision and absorb it into the way I run my business. I’m going for Option C: learn and adopt.
Not being envious can mean that we close our eyes to what is around us. We can become parochial, small-minded, fixed on what we already have even though that may not be fit-for-purpose anymore.
That’s why I’d like to welcome Envy to join Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust & Gluttony as one of the Super 7.
Envy breeds imagination: it shows us what is possible; and it reminds us that there’s plenty out there to go for.