Your current position in different areas of life is the result of who you are – your genes, behavioral patterns, values and beliefs, decisions etc. and environment, from the people you spend time with to your company culture, the industry you work in, market trends, government, and so on. Your environment determines your potential as much as you determine it with your own personal power. The environment as a system can either empower your ambitions or stifle them.
In many cases, people who thrive in a certain environment would suffer in another kind of environment. A corrupt politician does better in a country with lots of corruption than he does in transparent and fair systems; meanwhile a person who focuses on creating and delivering value has a hard time succeeding in an environment that respects political connections and bribes more than free markets.
Thus you should always look for an optimal environment that can support your ambitions and is in line with your values. You may do better either in a big company or a startup, in a technology company or the traditional industry, you may work better as a specialist or a generalist or even an entrepreneur. You may feel better living in a crowded city or far away from the noise and a mass of people. You have to figure out which environment suits you best.
The good news is that the world is becoming more and more flat. Location doesn’t matter as much as it used to, as long as you’re connected to the internet. You can innovate without having to emigrate.
Nevertheless, there are five elements that you should look for in every environment and will contribute to your long-term success. These are the elements that encourage creating, delivering and capturing real value by being human and keeping personal integrity, achieving it with prestige, not dominance. A system that supports these five values still has competition, the world is still tough, but also fair, empathic and collaborative. The bottom line is that we’re all connected, we all share one world and for now, only one planet. Hurting anyone else simply means hurting yourself.
For your long-term success, make sure that both your private and professional life take place in environments with the five values listed below; because the world is changing and those who profit from secrecy and deception will soon discover they only have a few places left to hide. The first three values you should look for in an environment are based on research that dr. Richard Florida did on thriving societies in today’s world, published in his book The Rise of the Creative Class.
The first T is talent. Talent is the basis of everything. Jobs are created where talented people are. Capital follows the talent. A critical mass of talented people creates innovation, out of the box thinking, (healthy) mutual competition, interdisciplinary dream teams, and so on. You need enough expert minds and complex communication in order to encourage creativity. That’s why the best universities in the world are so important for progress – because you’re in a system with a critical mass of talent that empowers you.
First of all, you should work in a system full of talent. The measurement for that is quite simple: if you’re the smartest person in the room (system), you’re in the wrong room. You want to be in a room of highly talented, educated, skilled and motivated people. Today, teams win, not individuals. Consequently you want to see your connections as part of a larger team that’s trying to achieve something, not only in your professional life but also in your private one (spouse, family…). Talented teams produce innovation and progress!
The second T you want to look for is technology. Technology is leverage, technology helps with progress and efficiency. Technology is the thing that increases your productivity, connectedness, mobility, quality of life, access to information, knowledge, resources and much more. Technology is also the thing that brings better transparency and collaboration among talented individuals.
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All societies (systems) that thrived in the past and will thrive in the future innovated in one way or another. Talented people created a tool to do something better, faster, more efficiently etc. The future belongs to the creative class, and the creative class creates and delivers value by using technology. That’s why you should try to work in systems that use, operate, leverage, encourage and invent new technologies.
The third T is tolerance. You want to live in a diverse, heterogenic, integrative environment that’s tolerant and empathic. Innovation means always trying new things. Maybe you’ll have to try 10,000 options that don’t work before inventing something that does. Failure with validated learning is inevitable in the process of inventing new things. And you need the courage to fail. You need an environment that doesn’t judge failure but tolerates it. You also want an environment that’s tolerant towards people experimenting and trying new things.
That’s why tolerance is so important in the system you function in. Not only does that diversity encourage you to keep your mind open and try new things, you can also more easily find new connections that weren’t discovered yet, and don’t have a lot of societal pressure judging you if you fail. No tolerance means no innovation, no innovation means no progress.
A lack of transparency may be a huge political advantage, especially for corrupt acts and unfair benefits; corruption inevitably occurs when a select few have access to important information, which allows them to use it for personal gain. But it’s also true that the world is changing and those who profit from secrecy and deception will soon discover that they only have a few places left to hide. Because a lack of transparency creates unhealthy systems. To quote Dalai Lama: “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”
Transparency is simply defined as a lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of all information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision-making. Transparency is so important because it’s the essential condition for a free and open exchange, whereby the rules and reasons behind regulatory measures are fair and clear to all participants.
In a non-transparent system, effort is rarely rewarded. That’s why talent in systems like that has little value. That’s why you want to work in a transparent system. You don’t want to keep questioning how much your co-worker earns, you want to know that you’re paid according to your value added and be sure that your co-workers are as well. The key ingredient of transparency is honest, deep and direct communication. So look for systems that encourage transparency and honest communication.
Last but not least, we are at the fifth T. The last T refers to transcendence. Transcendence is about fighting for an important and good cause. Transcendence means having a strong why, a why that’s stronger than all the obstacles you meet along the way.
Transcendence is about being in an environment that has a big vision, an environment that encourages you to constantly improve and become your best. It’s about an environment where you fit in, because you know you can develop your talents and feel purpose in life.
It concerns a transcendent environment, where things are not only about you, but about the whole team and the whole ecosystem, even the whole world. It’s about you becoming your best, it’s about you leaving a legacy and it’s about making the world a better place for everyone else.
It’s about a system that encourages you to be a good person. People are often not bad and evil, but the system and life situations bring out the worst in them. Think about the Stanford prison experiment. There’s evil in all of us, the only question is what kind of a system we’re functioning in, which part of our personality the system brings out.
You want to be in a system that brings out the best in you. Transcendence is what really defines you as a human being and what separates humans from animals. A transcendent ecosystem is a system that empowers more divine forces in you than animal instincts.
You can also influence your environment
What’s important isn’t only that you find an environment that fits you best and empowers you the most, but also that you help to construct and develop ecosystems that encourage talent, technology, tolerance, transparency and transcendence. If you want to achieve your maximum potential and peak performance, you have to find your optimal environment, online or offline.
But when you do that, it’s your duty to help develop other systems and societies, so that other people will also have more options. You best achieve that by being a role model and by being socially active. Let me illustrate this with a story.
A man asked Mother Theresa what he can do to promote world peace and make the world a better place. She replied: “Go home and love your family.” A family is the first place where family members should support each other in developing talents, using technology as a leverage, being tolerant to mistakes and trying new things, being transparent and having a strong sense of purpose and mission.
You are a product of your environment as well, so choose it carefully.