Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D. & Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.
Hoarding is characterized by the inability to throw or give things away. Just as one can hoard material possessions, you can also hoard opportunity. “Success” hoarders have a “me-first” psychology: they hoard ideas; they hoard credit or recognition; they hoard connections.
So, why is this wrong?
It’s not wrong, it’s just limiting. The “success” hoarder is kept confined by their narrow closed-off, “important person” psychology. They hang on tightly to their success because they are fearful that others will somehow “steal” their ideas. They are guarded when others approach them as they fear that “this person wants something from me” or, “this person will try to take something from me.” A “success” hoarder becomes, in this sense, a prisoner of their success.
We’ve observed this phenomenon occurring in academic arenas where the “important person’s” cache is often their academic rank, the number and amount of their grants, and the number of their peer-reviewed articles in prestigious journals. It certainly occurs in other arenas; such as businesses of all types, professional firms and agencies, and within public and private organizations. Despite their wealth, the “success” hoarder does not share and does not give to others who are less successful.
Why does this happen? Perhaps success hoarding is fueled by a “survival of the fittest” mentality. We, however, believe it is a much more complex phenomenon. The 21st century can be viewed as the “age of anxiety.” This phrase was first coined in the 1950s by theologian Paul Tillich to describe the post-World War II period where there was a paradox of great material prosperity, and yet, many found themselves as profoundly disconnected, both spiritually and psychologically. Tillich labeled this as a sense of “non-being” precipitated by alienation from self, from the creative forces around one, and of connectivity to others.
We believe the age of anxiety has re-emerged in the 21stcentury, as we are becoming a society that increasingly values people for their glitter—be it fame or fortune—than for the more profound values such as integrity and honor. Moreover, relationships and interactions have become considerably more impersonal and distant. For example, there is a lack human connectedness given that so many of our interactions are through digital communication rather than face-to-face. People may not exist for others as real flesh and blood beings with feelings and desires. Consequently, this can foster a lack of concern or empathy for others, and lead to viewing people as objects. As such, Tillich’s “age of anxiety” and his even more disturbing “abyss of meaninglessness” may be more profound in the 21st century than ever before.
And so we come back to the “why” of the “success” hoarders: it may be a defense mechanism to ward off the pervasive anxiety that accompanies the disconnection from others and a sense of being a part of a real community. This then, may stimulate a fear that if you are not vigilant enough about keeping what you have, all of it will be taken away. And therefore, if you have nothing, then you will be nothing.
So, what is the antidote? We believe it is entrepreneurial altruism. This is not about business ventures setting aside a portion of their profits for charitable endeavors. It is not about fund drives, dinners, silent auctions, or any such activity. What we mean by entrepreneurial altruism is being other-oriented; that is, looking for ways in which you can help others achieve success. It is releasing an individual’s destiny by opening up doors of opportunity for them and not expecting anything in return.
How do you put entrepreneurial altruism into practice?
If you are a successful entrepreneur, a real estate broker, a writer, a lawyer, etc., and attend a conference or event where you see people who are at the beginning stages of their careers or have worked hard but not yet achieved success, what can you do to open a door for them? It is not merely net-working, it is “net-doing.” Networking is a delicate dance of developing connections with the hope that something will develop. Net-doing is the opposite: no subtle dance of polite conversation; but, a direct hit about what you can actually do for another person. That other person may be a junior member of your company, a student, or perhaps an older individual starting a new venture. You may say, “I’ll be inundated if I take that on.” We say, “You can do it!” We believe that if you engage in entrepreneurial altruism, you will be the catalyst in releasing the potential of others and serving a higher good.
A natural human reaction is to ask, “What’s in it for me?”
Over fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King observed that we are all tied together in a “single garment of destiny.” Eventually, by living a “success” hoarding life, we will all be infected with Tillich’s “non-being.” In his book, Daniel Goleman writes of the Dalai Lama’s vision of the force of good as a visible movement that can, in essence, shift the tides of negativity through compassionate energy. That is why we argue that entrepreneurial altruism—the cooperative spirit of helping others fulfill their dreams by sharing the wealth of your ideas and connections—will uplift the sharer as well as the one who receives the sharing.
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