Guest blog: Believing in contribution, not entitlement
Guest blog by Katerva:The mission of Katerva is to find, evaluate and accelerate disruptive sustainable innovations from around the world. We’re looking for ideas that leap efficiency, lifestyle, and create action that is a generation ahead of current thinking.
In our six-part
series we talk about shifts in mindset and behaviour that are required if
we are serious about moving towards sustainability. Our latest one was
about ‘Giving more importance to the feminine side’, before that the
topics were ‘Thinking into the future while acting now’, ‘Letting go off
the illusion of control control’, and ‘Understanding connectedness and
thinking in systems’.
is the shift required? The essence of this mindset shift is captures in the quote
of John F Kennedy from his presidential inauguration in 1961 when he
said, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for
your country”. Given our sphere of influence - our community, and
the wider context on which we depend - the planet, this should really be
expanded to “Ask not what your community, country or planet can do for
you - ask what you can do for them!”
The sentiment of ‘contribution’ is certainly not a modern one, most
religions emphasise it in some form or other; whether it is, ‘It is more
blessed to give than to receive’ in Christianity (Apostles 20,35),
‘generosity’ being one of the three central practices of Buddhism (the other two are morality,
and meditation), or ‘charity’ (Zakat) being one of the five pillars of Islam (the other four are Shahadah -
sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, Salat -performing
ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day, Sawm - fasting
during the month of Ramadan, and Hajj - pilgrimage to Mecca). Yet
somehow, particularly in the world of today, it seems that the sense of
entitlement, rather than the thought of contributing, seems to
What does it mean to feel entitled? Definitions read, “A pervasive sense
that one deserves more and is entitled to more than others” or “An
expectation of special favours without reciprocating.”
While not all seems negative about entitlement, particularly in the
context of innovation; one study suggest that, “people who feel
more entitled value being different from others, and the greater their
need for uniqueness, the more they break convention, think divergently
and give creative responses”, overall consequences seem unpleasant, be it
for the individual or those around them. Evidence suggests that those feeling
entitled are caught in a vicious circle: entitlement leads to high
expectations which are impossible to meet; unmet expectations lead to
frustration and resentment; frustration and resentment trigger an even
greater sense of entitlement and superiority. Looking at the context of
work, research indicates that a sense of
entitlement leads to political behaviour and co-worker abuse and, as a
result, to job-related frustration. Here the link to an article that explores the why
and the how of ‘The rise of the entitlement mentality’ at work further.
While entitlement is focus on self, contribution is focus on others. This
shift from entitlement, or ‘I’, to contribution or ‘we’ - or as
Otto Scharmer would put it, a shift from ego-system to eco-system - is
one of the key shifts the world needs now.
Why isn’t it happening?
There are several
aspects that make letting go of entitlement tricky.
First, what we perceive to be normal. What ever it is we experience on a
daily basis shape what we perceive to be ‘normal’; we easily take this
for granted; we feel entitled to what we are used to, we feel that it is
our right; we tend to not appreciate it (sufficiently). As Yanis
Varoufakis put it in his book Talking to my daughter about the economy,
“Our mind automatically equates I have x with I deserve x.”
It takes something like the coronavirus, to make us realise how
much we have taken for granted! Perhaps there is one thing the
corona virus is teaching us: what we thought were our rights, are, in the
bigger picture, truly privileges. Rights, priviledges, does it
matter? It does. Language is criticallly important as it influences how
we think, how we think influeces how we feel, and how we feel
influences how we act. The perception of having rights leads to a sense
of entitlement whereas considering things to be out privileges leads
to a sense of gratitude; and with a sense of gratitude often
comes a sense of responsibility, a responsibility to share, and
Second, a mindset of continuous progress. In most parts of the world
parents (and the children) have the expectation that the following
generations will be (financially) better off than they were. For many
parts of the world this is no longer the case. A realisation has set in
that unlimited growth is not feasible on the one and only planet we have.
Of course, Dennis Meadows, Donella Meadows, Jørgen
Randers, William W. Behrens III have pointed this out in their book Limited of Growth already
back in 1972. Third, because we can. In the western world we are used to insurances and
safety nets, originally put in place to avoid unjust and unfair hardship.
Yet today it seems that we place claims because we can, not because it is
essential for our survival; often it is not even just or fair. But we do
it because we can, being reminded of these ‘rights’ via a never ending stream
of advertisements. Consequence are bizarre court cases over coffee that
is too hot or baguette that are not of a particular length. It seems that
fewer and fewer of us are willing to take responsibility for our
carelessness or stupidity.
Fourth, a sense of entitlement is part of our psychological evolution.
Self-centredness and a sense of entitlement are part of every child’s
development. For moving beyond it is important to experience parents and
other role models displaying a respectful, emphatic stance towards
others. In this context the view that many countries today are led by
‘moys’ is an interesting perspective. To quote from a letter by the Grandmothers' Council, “Moys are a
combination of man and boy, but mostly boy. They are large and have loud
voices so people mistake them for men, but they are not men. A man thinks
of the common good while a moy has not learned to think of anyone but
himself. He has not fully developed and is still a child.”
the same for everyone? Power Distance is the Hofstede dimension that resonates
closest with this shift. This dimension is about the degree to which
power differentials within society and organisations are not only
accepted but even expected. For the shift from entitlement to
contribution this means that in countries with high power distance
scores, where people willingly accept that some feel more entitled than
others, it might be even more difficult to shift towards a mindset of
In the video Geert Hofstede introduce this dimension.
You can compare up to four countries across
Hofstede’s dimensions here; below a few examples as well as the
world at a glance.
What can be done about it? Being aware of
our own attitude and mindset are an essential first step. A story told by
conductor Benjamin Zander illustrates this well.1 Seeing
conductors as “the last bastion of totalitarianism left in the civilised
world” he was, like so many of us, primarily concerned with his own
performance - until he came across a Harvard study into job satisfaction.
The study revealed that those playing in small musical groups, such as a
quartet, expressed the highest levels of job satisfaction whereas those
playing in an orchestra ranked amongst the lowest, below even that of
prison guards. He realised that the key difference between a quartet and
an orchestra was him, the conductor! This motivated him to shift
his attitude from one of entitlement, ’being in charge of the players’,
to one of contribution, focusing on bringing out the best in each and
everyone of them.
As in Ben’s story, it often requires some external stimulus to make us
realise our own sense of entitlement. How can we create such an external
stimulus? Placing ourselves into a different context can reveal what we
take for granted and feel entitled to: experience of different cultures,
travel. Realising the value of putting someone into a context from
which they are normally far removed was the foundation of a series the
BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) created in the late 1990s and
early 2000s titled Back to the Floor. Here CEO
and other top level managers took junior roles in their organisations,
incognito. For many this experience was a true revelation, helping them
understand how their organisation actually worked, and what employees truly
thought of them.
It requires reflection and exposure to context of a different ‘normal’ -
or, as in these times of the coronavirus, that the things we have taken
for granted are taken away from us.
While there might be different pathways that lead to a sense of entitlement,
once it’s taken hold there are generally the following indicators,
genuinely thinking one is
more deserving and better than others (not only different);
standards and freeloading (not doing what we advise others to do,
and expecting favours from other without ever giving anything back);
expectations - of others, and taking things for granted.
Antidotes to a sense of entitlement include humility and gratitude - and consciously
observing ourselves, so we actually notice how we are reacting and
behaving, and when a sense of entitlement shines through. So when
something goes wrong or we feel that an injustice has been done to us, we
can either react by throwing a tantrum, or we can follow piece of advice
by Benjamin Zander, who suggest that in these instances, instead of
throwing a tantrum we throw our hands up in the air and shout ‘how
fascinating’! This will not only reduce the negative impact a tantrum has
on all of those around us, it will also make ourselves feel better,
reducing our levels of stress.
If letting go of entitlement is a way to reduce levels of stress, studies have shown that giving, making a
contribution, is the best way of achieving lasting improvement
So letting go of a sense of entitlement is a good idea, even if it is
just because we feel entitled to a happier, more fulfilling life … 1 As
told at the 2003 Innovation Exchange Conference at London Business
School; similarly relayed in “Success Built to Last: Creating a Life that
Matters”, by Jerry I. Porras, Stewart Emery, Mark Thompson and “How to
Change Absolutely Anything: What the best leaders know, do and say”, by
Who is already doing it?
Here a few examples from Katerva’s nominee pool and beyond
Specialisterne, a 2020
nominee, harnesses the special characteristics and talents of
people with autism and uses them as a competitive advantage, and as a
means to help people with autism secure meaningful employment.
Das Geld hängt an den Bäumen (Money
grows on trees) - preventing fruits from rotting on
trees, creating employment for disabled people, nurturing
the local food chain.
From Child to Child - instead of
passing knowledge on to children, the children develop / discover that
Do you know any sustainable disruptive innovations
that lead the way?
Submissions are welcome throughout the year!
read: The introductory newsletter here; Part 1, Understanding connectedness and thinking in
systemshere; Part 2, Letting go of the illusion of controlhere; Part 3, Thinking further into the future while acting
nowhere. Part 4, Giving more importance to the feminine sidehere.
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