Friday, August 14, 2009

Communal Justice

A decade ago I invited Sally Bendersky -the CEO of Chile's Intec- to visit Boston. We met with Howard Stevenson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Harvard; Ed Dunn, director of MIT forum and the superb Edward Roberts ( Edward_B._Roberts), brain behind the MOT program at MIT.

At that time Stevenson told us about the four factors he believed promoted or hindered an entrepreneurial culture. I do not remember three of those factors, but one kick me in the head: the joy of other's success.

As a typical immigrant, having been in Chile only for a couple of year, I still longed for Boston (not its winter) and Switzerland (no its rules) but more than anything else I longed for the Venezuelan happiness. We seemed to be always celebrating, any minute achievement was a reason to rejoice. We not only enjoyed other's successes, we took it as our own.

The issue has always been in my mind and popped up recently when reading a very interesting book. In his book 'Sway' cousins Rom and Oru Brafman mention an unusual finding in a popular TV show in France and Russia.

"Who wants to be millionaire" is a TV show broadcast locally in several countries of the world, using the same format: A contestant selects a question and picks an answer amongst four choices. If correct, he or she wins a certain amount of money and have an option to take it or to continue to the next level to answer another question, if correct he or she will advance to the next higher level, otherwise he or she will lose the money.

Respondants have the option to use help for an emergency by calling a person once, asking the audience once or asking the programmer to reduce the number of selections from four to two once. This program has become very famous thanks to the movie called "Slumdog Millionaire", filmed in India.

In his book Sway, the Brafmans commented that, in both France and Russia, when contestants asked for the audience's help, they were lied to on purpose to make them lose. It seemed that the audience believed that if they couldn't win, they did not want the contestant to win. This attitude contrasted sharply with other countries including the United States, where the audience genuinly tried to help the contestant win.

Why would an audience of a TV show would prefer to see a person lose for no reason? Reading these reflections make me think about my own personal evolution. In my work with entrepreneurs I always had the intention of creating win/win propositions. Later on, when talking to Linda Holcman who joined us, she mentioned the triple win (including of course, the customers).

The joy of other's success, mentioned by Howard Stevenson seems a key issue. What do you think?

The book is here by the way...