Being born in socialist Kerala, I have always been exposed to the idea that any organization - be it a company or the Government - should be infused with the egalitarian ethos. The idea that all men are created equal and should be provided equal opportunity in their pursuits appeals to our ideals. But does this really make sense when compared with what we see around us? The most common mistake that smart people make is to confuse their models of reality with reality itself. You could shout slogans against the law of the jungle till you turn hoarse, but the lions and the tigers are not going to turn vegetarian on your watch.
The flaw of the egalitarian argument is that not all men are created equal. People have unique personalities and talents and not all of them are suited for the job at hand. Software companies are a prime example. Research has shown that the productivity difference between the average engineer and the expert engineer is several orders of magnitude. But the pay differential between the two are often just a matter of few percentages. The company thus derives a lot more value from these experts when compared to the average engineers. You would think that every rational company would then strive to increase the number of experts in their ranks. Unfortunately this is not always the case. You could either try to hire more experts or alternatively you could try to improve the expertise of your average employees. Whatever approach you take, your path will not be easy. The problem is that these experts are always a minority. Not all of us are cut out for this role as it involves obsessing about a narrow discipline and spending arduous hours refining your skills.
These "valuable few" were celebrated in the past as master craftsmen. Kerala had its very own "Perumthachan" or "master carpenter" who made architectural marvels that have stood the tests of time. While mastery and craftsmanship declined in the era of mechanization and the Industrial Revolution, these are now making a comeback in the Internet era. Those who have graduated from the university of "Just Google it" now realize the pointlessness of the countless hours spent learning rote knowledge in school and college. Ironically as everyone has access to information at their fingertips, the gulf between the mediocre and the experts have widened even further. In the past, regurgitating rote learning may have earned you the title of the expert. But now, creativity and expertise is what makes you stand apart from the rest.
If you are an organization, your success lies in being able to attract and retain more and more of this valuable few. This would mean creating a culture of excellence where expertise is encouraged and exalted. This would mean toning down the egalitarian ethos to acknowledge the fact that even though all men are created equal, some men are more equal than others. Remember that experts cherish an environment where knowledge can be acquired and distilled. Very often this learning is via the interactions you have with your peers. One thus sees the Matthew effect at play here - a company or team rich in experts will end up attracting and retaining more experts thereby leading to a virtuous cycle. The wheel can also turn in the opposite direction when the environment sours and the smart ones flee for safer pastures. With fewer experts in their midst, the rest of the valuable few jump ship as well thereby accelerating the hollowing out of the organization.
It is not a pleasant sight!