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Our Survival and Growth — Us or Me?

By Samuel Kim

Having worked with over forty organizations in the past twenty years, I have seen clearly that the people who weather storms are those who embrace the principles of “we are all in this together” and “I work hard so we can all be successful together.” This “we” mindset is what proactive people also adopted and practiced. The objective for their constant learning and innovation is not just their own gain but the collective benefit of everyone in their communities

In 2016 I visited the Samsung headquarters in Suwon, Korea, and had a striking conversation with one of its staff-members. Her message still resonates with me strongly. In summary, she said that though she was just one of many hundreds of thousands of Samsung employees, what she did each day mattered to the present and future of Samsung. Many people worked for the company to enhance their own reputations or pay their bills, but to her what mattered was working diligently and learning whatever she could to contribute to the company. Though she was not required to learn Spanish, computer programming, or the latest technological trends, she studied them anyway, because she believed that one day she would be able to add value to the company with all her skills. She also declared that Samsung could not afford to employ lazy people who would fall behind or get caught up in messy office politics. Such people drag down companies. Fortunately, she had met many colleagues at Samsung who shared her values. Ultimately, her message was this: “My success is Samsung’s, and Samsung’s success is mine.” To succeed as a group, we all need to do our part well. There is no such thing as one person’s success. 


On the other hand, there are always some people in every community who point fingers in crises, procrastinate and become complacent in calmer times, and grow obstinate and arrogant when they achieve success. Eventually they dissipate their critical resources and their capacity for growth, and this leads eventually either to their professional demise or to permanent mediocrity. Such people are loyal to their own aims but not to those of the larger group. They are obsessed with protecting their own interests—their reputation, wealth, position, and power in every form. But they fail to realize that the largest and most lasting form of power comes only with collaboration and altruism. Theirs is a subtractive rather than a productive mindset. In my own experience, the Lehman Brothers, which sparked the 2007 financial crisis, Takata with its defective airbags and Nokia’s downfall in such a short time span are examples of entire companies that fell prey to this claim-value over create-value mindset. 

Now, in the calamitous times we’re currently facing, it’s more important than ever to put our collective survival first. We must not get caught up with blaming others or complaining about what we lack; instead we should focus on what we still have and how we can overcome our challenges in order to reach a stable, prosperous future. Those who embrace the mindset of “we are all in this together” will increase their chances not just of survival but of success. The varying national responses to the Covid-19 pandemic offer vivid examples of how this mindset can help us. In some nations today the people are working together as one, mindful that the pandemic is everyone’s problem to solve, not just a problem for the head of state or the technocrats. Other nations, however, are playing blame games and stoking hatred and confusion, delaying those striving to find solutions and increasing discord throughout the world. 

The more people who nurture their internal drive and strive to work closely with others, for the benefit of whole societies, the more chances we’ll have of riding out this crisis. The pandemic, climate change, the economic downturn, and sociopolitical tensions, combined with technological advancement, changes in the nature of jobs and governance, and transformations in our perceptions of space, time, and identity, are disrupting every aspect of our lives. The ramifications of these changes stretch far into the future, but we can weather the mounting disruptions and uncertainties provided we embrace positive, productive approaches to change.