To Compete or Come Together

Since writing my last post, I’ve felt another start to brew in my brain. Since my last became my most popular ever, I’ve become increasingly nervous about writing a follow-up. Since thinking about writing the follow-up, I’ve received comments and feedback which have directly reinforced my reasons for feeling nervous.

The sentiment behind my last post is echoed here, though I want to pick it apart more specifically. My experience of defensive, ‘we know best because we’ve been here longer’, insecure co-workers has been a negative one and it plays into an overall sadness I feel about people participating in the us/them divide.

Why do some people feel it’s necessary to barricade themselves in a silo?

“I’ve been doing this job 25 years and I know this won’t work”
“Look, you’re new and I know you’re trying to help but…”
“It might not look the way that you’re used to, but I can assure you it’s all there. Let me just look through these notes…” *pulls scruffy notebook out of the bottom of a busted-up leather shoulder bag*

I really can’t get my head around reasons for professional people putting up such impenetrable walls. I want to beg them to listen, to really here me and the others on my ‘side’ to really hear what we’re saying so that they can understand that we have the same goals, we want to move in the same direction; toward doing a good job!

I’ve felt this in the UX/Design Research community too, sadly. In my current role, I’ve had more peer support and collaboration than ever before, but that certainly isn’t my experience in general. I’ve seen some people deliberately shun their contemporaries, their teammates for trying to push on and do something positive. Worse, I’ve seen people who are putting personal effort into elevating the collaboration throughout our discipline, be completely ignored.

This has to stop.

I can’t speak of other professions or industries, but I’m sure this happens everywhere. I know it happens in personal and social communities all the time. I think there are a couple of things going on here, to varying degrees depending on the individual and the situation:

Fear of being in the out-group.

A theory presented by Henri Tajfel who wrote and researched a lot on social identity in the mid 1900’s. I first heard about him during my Psychology undergrad and his theories, or at least some ideas within them have run true for me both socially and professionally.

In general, people don’t want to be part of the out-group. People behave more favourably toward those with whom they most closely identify, which leads to less favourable treatment toward those whom are different from them.

But that’s weird, right? That’s kind of at-odds with my initial point, right? We’re a research community and yet some of it’s members choose to actively shun or ignore one another. We’re a team, right? Yet some people choose to distance themselves, even build barriers to separate themselves from those they’re meant to be working with.

So, in this case is the in-group something different? Is the in-group in this case the colleagues who also 25 years’ experience in the same organisation? Is the in-group those who don’t speak up and just carry on regardless?

Imposter Syndrome

Of course, there could be something much more intense going on. Some colleagues could feel a terrible inferiority about their more vocal, pro-active counterparts. Being a voice in the community/team/social group could be something a person aspires to be, but feels utterly unqualified to do.

A new person coming into the team who sees some gaps in the way you’ve been working and offers to help plug them, could feel like an evil, finger-pointing monkey there to expose you for the fraud that you are. I’ve absolutely felt threatened by colleagues who are newer, yet in some way ‘better’ than me, in the past.

There’s also a huge shift in the public sector moving from archaic paper trail admin systems of filing hell, into digitised products and services and redeployment into roles which support this. I feel a tangible waves of heads looking over shoulders as people check to see if anyone has figured out that they feel like they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.


The needs or desire to be better than some one or everyone else. The berating of others to elevate yourself. Minimising other’s successes, hard work and progress to more comfortably align them with your own, to make them easier to beat next time.


Someone else’s success does not mean your failure.

If your mate does well, it doesn’t mean you’re shit.

If someone joins your team with more experience in a particular area than you, let them teach and guide you. Use it as an opportunity to grow your skillset. You can learn a lot from observing, taking stock and being open to growth. You can learn a lot about yourself. Leah Lockhart writes brilliantly about how she did this in her recent weeknote.

Via @DrDrayMBA on Twitter

Taking credit for the successes of those in your team does not make you look good, it makes you look like you have an underperforming team and you’re having to do all of the work. You put that team together, so ultimately that’s on you.

Rachael knows what’s up:

We’re all in this together. And by this I mean User Researchers doing research and I also mean humans doing life. If you can help someone out, do it. If you can give a shout out to your counterpart in another office, do it. If you can put a junior member of the team in touch with a potential mentor, do it. If you can hug your friend for getting that amazing opportunity they worked super hard for (you can), do it.

This issue has come up time and time again, though few have managed to express the sentiment in quite such a simple way as Ann Friedman & Aminatou Sow when the describe Shine Theory.

Ann wrote:

“…and we want to support each other in pursuing success and happiness on our own terms”.

Of course, this is just a story of my experience, a list of my observations and some educated theorising on what might be going on, here.

This exchange just about sums up my point:

Mitchell Gillespie and @mashallexec on Twitter

Support your team, your contemporaries, your colleagues, your friends. We are stronger when we come together, not when we compete.