The Myth of Individualism

Posted on October 18, 2022

I don’t know if anyone reading this listens to podcasts, but I find them quite interesting. What’s good about them I find, is that you can jump back to them at any time.


Recently, I have been listening to a series of podcasts called ‘Sideways’. It was written and narrated by Mathew Syed. Syed is something of a brainbox who first came to my attention when I read his book, ‘Bounce – The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice’.

The most recent podcast of Syed’s I listened to, was called ‘Best Foot Forward’, which focussed predominantly on teamwork. He used two examples for this podcast, both positive and negative. A positive example was the Denmark football team of 1992. A negative example was collapsed energy giant, Enron.  

Denmark 1992

Denmark won the Euro 92 competition, beating Germany 2-0 in the final. The team was made up of players no one outside of Denmark had heard of, apart from Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel. Laudrup had retired but came back, but only the agreement that he put in the same shift as the unknowns from Danish domestic clubs Brondy and Lynby.

Without superstars, Denmark had no choice but to gain success through togetherness and hard graft. If players were not prepared to work equally, they could leave the squad. It worked and it seems a simple philosophy. However, it is remarkably neglected as an ideology. To this day, football clubs are unable to resist a disruptive marquee signing.


With regards to the collapse of Enron, it was a remarkable case of the owners focussing on individualism to drive the company forward. They encouraged staff to focus on themselves and created a system where there was a company promotion and relegation system. Those at the top were rewarded with bonuses and those at the bottom were sacked.

The problem was those at the top were getting there by engaging in deals that were low on quality and cash flow. Those more responsible executives seeking safer longer-term deals were sacked for not getting business in quick enough. The collapse was inevitable and was a lesson in how to hire in the sales environment. A lesson that some companies still refuse to understand.

Teamwork and Sharing

The crux of the podcast is that humans act and perform better when they work together, exchanging ideas and assisting colleagues. I witnessed this recently when watching a documentary on the entombing of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. It was so heart-warming watching engineers and scientists from throughout Europe and the rest of the world, sharing their skills and working together to solve the ongoing threat emanating from a nuclear power station.

The reason the human race has been so successful is down to teamwork, sharing and working with one another to create food, homes to live in, clothes to keep us warm, and machinery to help us explore, manufacture, travel, explore and create drugs and equipment that give us a better quality of life. So why on earth are we being conned that individualism is what drives us on?  

Why do we Accept it?

Why do we accept that people in the city gambling with public money are so important? So important that when the appalling minibudget that tanked the economy was trashed, the lifting of banker’s bonuses was the one thing that stayed in place. While people who have done nothing wrong, brace themselves for a brutal winter, bankers who smashed the economy as recently as 2008 are allowed to have a go at doing it again and hide their earnings offshore.

It’s utter lunacy, that’s what it is.

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