Understanding the Virtues of Meritocracy via Brazil

This wise nugget courtesy of Kishore Mahbubani on page 67 of his new book which I will be reviewing shortly:

The simplest way of understanding the virtues of meritocracy is to ask the question: why is Brazil a soccer superpower and an economic middle power? The answer is that when it looks for soccer talent, it searches for it in all sectors of the population, from upper classes to the slums. A boy from the slums is not discriminated against if he has soccer talent. But in the economic field, Brazil looks for talent in a far smaller base of the population, primarily the upper and middle classes.

A similar point could be made around other types of discrimination (not just class based). With a seriously sexist business culture, Japan is effectively ignoring the potential creative contributions of 50% of its population.

And a corporate level…good companies cull ideas from all levels of the organization. Lou Gerstner at IBM famously encouraged employees at the bottom to submit ideas or proposals for corporate action. Let the best idea win, no matter who it comes from.

3 comments on “Understanding the Virtues of Meritocracy via Brazil
  • In a loose way, this post reminds me of the book “Hitler’s Gift.” It details the expulsion of Jewish scientists in Germany, before, during and after WW2 and how, ultimately, Britain and the US benefited. In these more liberal nations,the intellectual potential of great minds like Albert Einstein were “released.” Innovation, mainly in the sciences, flourished.

    I am both hopeful and saddened when I think think of how this applies to developing countries today. It’s impossible to estimate the musical whiz kids, literary geniuses and entreprenurial enthusiasts that remain repressed by factors such as starvation, disease, militant governments, cultural expectations and general poverty.

    The liberation to realize one’s potential is an incredible freedom.

  • Playing soccer the Brazilian way is more than just a style – the relaxed rhythm of the samba flows through the players’ movements. This graceful game that is so pleasing to the eye is a combination of many elements and traits and that makes a Brazilian Soccer player different from any other. The only test the selectors apply for a future talent is – in which position can he bring out his best. No, they will never look for the next PELE or Ronaldo because they have happened already.

    In enterprise scenario HR managers won’t *get it* in their lifetime, because they essentially are what I call “checklist” managers; trained to exhume all that is dead and buried, from the past. Their selection technique mostly goes – Age 25-30? Check. MBA? Check. 5 years experience? Check. Does she have a clue about her future role that we have for her in our company? Don’t bother.

  • I love this comparison. It is interesting to note that Kaka, perhaps the best Brazilian right now, is actually sort of resented by the other members of their national team because he grew up rich, unlike most of his teammates.

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