Pecking Order

In the 1920s, Norwegian Biologist Throlief Schjelderup Ebbe observed a group of hens thrown together and given some food.

After an initial bout of anarchy and fighting, the hierarchy among the hens is established. Every hen knew where it stood in the chain and the hens then ate the food only when the one above them in the hierarchy had finished. And if there is ever a dispute the higher hen would peck the other hen – giving rise to pecking order.

I just reviewed a truly fascinating book by Will Durant called the ‘The Lessons of History’. Ever since reading the book and understanding Durant’s point of view, I’ve begun to respect hierarchy a  lot. It seems to be the natural order of things. And it manifests itself in everything.

For example, corporate ‘culture’ is a term that is used a lot these days. And, in my humble opinion, corporate ‘culture’ is really a manifestation of hierarchy.

The boring places are those that are extremely hierarchical and bureaucratic while the fun places to work are those places which don’t reinforce the existing hierarchy. But, let’s not forget – in every place, the hierarchy exists. It must exist. There is always the fall guy i.e. the big boss. ;) And there is no point pretending it doesn’t exist either. That just ends up frustrating everyone.

Aside from hierarchy, which is how we establish the natural pecking order, there are also other factors that influence it. In some culture, it’s extrinsic stuff like having expensive cars, in others by having intense Blackberry conversations on Sunday and demonstrating that you don’t have a life and in some others, by the quality of your family life and how your kids are doing.

In any case, pecking order does exist everywhere. And being young and, as a result, bottom of the food chain, I’ve learnt it is best to respect it and work with it than work against it. Experience is an incredible thing and only time can teach us that. And if we are surrounded by great people, then we are given opportunities to ‘do our thing’ anyway. Of course, we’ll have to earn those stripes. But, it’s a fair expectation.

The key, I’ve realized, is to remind ourselves to fit in first, and then stand out. Not always easy when you are young. But vital.