One thing that I find so unique about Spotify since I joined was that everyone seems so relentlessly collaborative. It was a breath of fresh air, but it took me for a loop, I kept wondering what was in the water that made everyone so supportive of one another. This was a kool-aid that I wanted to drink for once. It got me thinking about the various types of toxic environments that I had been a part of in the past and how I either was victim, or was even (much to my own disappointment) unwittingly perpetuating that type of an environment. The thing about toxic environments is that they sneak up on you, they are upon you before you realize that they are happening. One day you wake up and it’s just there. Ive worked in a number of environments in the past that I would have considered toxic, and I realize now that there was one common theme in all those environments. Here are some of the patterns that you might see in a toxic environment:
This type of environment is toxic to it’s core, it takes individuals who excel out of genuine curiousity and puts them at the mercy of a power heirarchy with no motivation other than to preserve it’s own existence. It is like Zamaytin describes his dystopian society in “We”:
The common theme of all these scenarios is the idea that when one employee/manager/team wins the other loses and visa versa, in other words that achievement within a team is a zero sum game. This type of mindset has been called a lot of things, the” fixed mindset” for example but it’s ultimately rooted in the idea that the enemy is “within the gates”, meaning that you need to be on guard against those you work with. However, the realization that needs to be made is that the enemy is “outside the gates”. If there is an enemy at all, the competition is that enemy, and that adversary is outside of any individual or team in the company, it stands as a harrowing specter shadowing the team motivating them to charge out to the gates to meet it. Combat analogies seem to really drive this point home, for example, in Braveheart after William Wallace gives his speech, the soldiers don’t then turn to one another and start stabbing each other in the back, but they focus their attention outwards towards the enemy, because they have no choice.
The realization that needs to be made is that collaboration and working together ultimately results in a scenario where everybody wins to a far greater degree than if the individuals within the team were defeating one another in a zero sum game, especially when faced with what is or may become an existential threat. Whatever aphorism you want to use for this concept “the sum is greater than the parts”, “make more pies”, “growth mindset”, this is the exciting opportunity that can be embraced and seized for teams with the capability to do so. To address my previous curiosity about how Spotify is different, I think its possible that someone at the company, maybe even Daniel Ek himself realizes this principal very deeply, and the ripples of that intention are why it is such a great place to work.
See how many of the above scenarios begin to dissolve away when applying this new mindset
In other words, the best way to serve ourselves is to be selfless to those around us! Within a team, we have to support one another’s dreams, ambitions and goals better and stop viewing the world through an adversarial lens. I think Paul said it best:
Realizing this I think back on my career and how imperfectly I may have realized this idea in the past and the impact that it may have had. Just as a single individual in an environment embracing a growth mindset can have rippling effects on everyone around them for the better, a single act of self interest, no matter how benign can have devestating effects on a team and spread like a fire from the mind of one individual to the next until it burns up every ounce of energy that we could have used to create something truly great and beautiful for the world. It places on us a heavy burden, but its not without any hope for redemption when we don’t get it perfectly right.