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While I’m at it, let me introduce Tall Poppy Syndrome. I was reminded of this one by something I read in the paper about how Anne Hathaway has supposedly gathered quite a few haters that were dubbed by the media as “Hatha-haters”. The part that got me was that (direct quote):

“The intrigue is that people can’t put their finger on what it is about Anne Hathaway that has sparked this hatred. Somehow this woman that puts herself out there as sweet, good, humble and grateful is coming across as exactly the opposite, and Hathaway hatred has gone viral”.

Can’t put their finger on it? Let me give them a hand.

Introducing Tall Poppy Syndrome. This isn’t so much a field of study on its own as something that is genuinely integrated into human behaviour. The term describes the phenomenon where somebody who is successful in what they do is attacked and put down for no justifiable reason. Those of you who have not heard of this time might be thinking up myriad examples of where you’ve seen this happen.

I’m not exactly a Hathaway fan or anything but I don’t see the merit in anybody putting down another person when there is no specific, justifiable reason to do so. Even less so when you have absolutely no relation to the “Tall Poppy”. I mean, what’s the use in a bunch of obese keyboard warriors talking shit about an athlete. Are they going to get up and back up what they’re saying? No. They can’t. The fact is that most people aren’t qualified to judge Tall Poppies.

This doesn’t preclude objective analysis, of course. One can always objectively compare two Tall Poppies and conclude that one has better attributes than the other, but – well, you’ve all probably seen how serious it gets. Death threats, physical violence, outright abuse and filthy language are often thrown at people who are put in the spotlight.

Why does this happen? Like I mentioned earlier, I think it’s a part of human nature. If nothing else, it’s a personification of envy – and damn, humans are envious creatures. Sociologists like Max Weber have suggested it is due to a zero-sum game scenario, which is a game theory (economics) concept that basically means the sum of a certain thing in a system equals zero. In this case, that thing would be success. If some people are successful, that means there are people who are not successful. People who are not successful feel the need to “cut down” Tall Poppies, so to speak. By attacking the successful, subconsciously people think the effect will lower that person’s success and thereby increase their own chances of success.

A more psychological approach to it would be to consider that by focusing on the bad things about a successful person, and even propagating the spread of such, one can elevate their own sense of self-worth by comparison. “Hey, XYZ failed high school so at least I’m smarter than him”. Those with low self-esteem (most notable in those who are not successful) will thus feel even greater need to put down others – lowering successful people to their own level so that they can feel less disappointed in themselves. A relatively more successful person, however, will be confident in him/herself and feel far less need to engage in such activity.

Humankind has the need to assert its own superiority over everything. That includes all life on our planet, even ourselves. Tall Poppy Syndrome is pretty much just the ugly green face of human kind showing itself. For those of you who have noticed this phenomenon but didn’t have a term to describe it, here you go.

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Apollo Syndrome was coined by Dr Meredith Belbin and describes the phenomenon in which teams of highly capable individuals perform poorly as a collective. Whilst counter-intuitive, I’m sure many of you can think of examples where you’ve seen this happen (the first that comes to my mind is NBA All-Star teams). I should clarify, by badly I mean with a lack of synergy (they perform worse than they should given their individual talents).

There are many reasons for this phenomenon and I’m sure the brighter of you all can come up with a few yourself just by thinking about it. Belbin specifically noted the following flaws in Apollo teams:

  • Excessive time spent in abortive or destructive debate in which members try to persuade others to adopt their own point of view, and demonstrating a flair for spotting weaknesses in others’ arguments (the latter part is such a good description of me).
  • Difficulties faced in decision making and decisions that were reached displayed incoherence and were somewhat inconsistent.
  • Members tended to act individually without taking into account what other members were doing, making the team difficult to manage.
  • Members recognised what was happening but overcompensated by avoiding confrontation, which equally added to problems.

These are somewhat axiomatic – now that I’ve listed them to you, you’re probably thinking it makes a lot of sense. Apollo teams do work though, and in understanding their failings you can help maximise their benefits.

In general, successful Apollo teams lacked highly dominant individuals and had a particular style of leadership. As with all relationships, some sort of compromise must be available so that everyone is kept in line.

The overarching theme of Belbin’s work relates to the concept of synergy. You’re all probably aware of what synergy is but in practice, most people will choose raw “stats” (of an individual) over how well they fit into the team. I guess the lesson to take from here is to consider each person’s ability to contribute, not how qualified each person is by themselves.

What’s interesting is this also displays the tendency for “Alpha males” to butt heads. This is an evolutionary remnant of our primal selves, so I find it quaint that it still exists in so many forms in contemporary society. However, I do have a conflicting theory that I may mention in a later post.

Apparently, Apollo Syndrome has evolved to be used as a term to describe the condition of a person having an overly important view of their own role within a team.

The negative synergy that is a result of Apollo teams is often characterised as a “Deadly Embrace”, a computing term in which two programs will prevent each other from making progress. The most common example is when two programs take exclusive control of a particular file, and then try to gain access to the other file. Each program will refuse to relinquish their own file and wait for the other to release their’s – therefore nothing ever happens. Applying this to human teams can be quite an apt analogy.

As interesting as this is as a little tip and a bit of extra knowledge, you might not see much relevance of this to your daily lives. In that case, I would encourage you to read between the lines and apply the core principle to appropriate scenarios. Apollo Syndrome is often taught in management courses (that’s where I learned it from – a management course at my university) and does in fact have relevance and impact. It’s not just another funny little theory that nobody pays attention to – it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

 

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