Selective tall poppy syndrome

Posted: August 4, 2012 in Economics, Game Theory, Psychology, Social

I am a little tired of seeing all the media hate around executive pay cheques and I find it insulting that the same media outlets that write “no one is worth that much” will have a whole section celebrating their favourite sporting stars and singers who earn just as much in their early 20s.

Executives earn what they earn for the same simple reason that sporting stars and singers do, that is they are “special” and have unique and superior skills and abilities; the only difference is that executive gained their skills through decades of blood, sweat and tears. The general public rationalise that sporting stars and singers are simply naturally talented and that they themselves would not be able to emulate their performance regardless of how hard they worked at it, so when their favourite sporting stars and singers are reported to earn millions of dollars a year the public don’t think twice about it. However, when the public rationalises that they could do what an executive does and that while that they may not have the skills, knowledge or ability to do the job today, that they could have those things if they chose to. The reality of course is that the vast majority of the public do not chose to put in such decades of sacrifice, and even out of those that do, only a few make it to the top and regardless of this fact they are willing to crucify those who would put in such effort and call foul and inequity. 

Tall poppy syndrome

So why do people suffer from this form of selective tall poppy syndrome?

I would postulate that it is largely tied to the psychology around the perceived rules of the game, where the following beliefs exist because most people are not striving to obtain fame, wealth and power through sporting or musical performance but they are striving for those things working for corporations, and as such they see success in the sporting and music industry as mutually exclusive while empathising with anti-executive sentiments, especially when executives continue to do well and their fellow hard working peers continue to seemingly struggle. 

For someone not in the sporting or musical fields the following would hold true;

  1. The success of naturally talented individuals in sports and music does not diminish their ability to be successful
  2. The success of those in the business world does diminish their ability to be successful, as success if perceived to be a zero-sum game

Final Remarks

The reality would be that executives only seemingly do well in good and bad times because there needs to be leadership in corporations regardless of economic conditions. To penalise corporate leadership under a crab mentality in bad economic conditions would only undermine the efficiency of the economy further. I would say education is the answer but unfortunately tall poppy syndrome and crab mentality is something that will always exist. Even if educated there will always be people that are willing to drag other’s down at a cost to themselves but I’ll leave that topic for another time.


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