Tall Poppies

Feb 26, 2017

A month ago Tom Brady and his New England Patriots lined up for Super Bowl 51. Meanwhile questions around Brady's legacy were swirling. Was he really that good? Had he just been lucky? Or even worse, manipulative? I mean his record, and the legitimacy of some of the Patriot's previous titles, had been tarnished with some controversy (Deflategate and Spygate). Coming in to the largest spectacle America puts on every year there were no shortage of people eagerly ready for Brady to stumble. For the plucky Falcons to run over him. And for most of the ensuing 64 minutes of game time they did. But history shows Brady and the Patriots staged the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, brought the game into it's first ever overtime, and ultimately won. He cemented his place as the greatest quaterback of all time. The haters would have to wait for another day.

Bieber, Nickleback, and Lady Gaga. Depending on where your preferences sit on the spectrum of music tastes it's unlikely you like all three of them. In fact you might not like any of them. You may even be among the millions of people who so actively and passionately dislike them that the distaste of their work has become a meme unto itself. I'm sure it keeps them awake at night. With their collective album sales exceeding 100 million. With the hundreds of packed out stadium shows.

At the start of this month the media reported that passing of "it girl" Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Amidst all the speculation of what had happened the various press outlets described her as a "tabloid darling", which was a generous interpretation. Anybody who has read the British press over the past 25 years will know that's code for someone who has been mercilessly hunted by the paparazzi so that every social faux pas, wardrobe malfunction, or illegal activity can be documented in high resolution and splashed across what used to be the front page of a glossy magazine. If you didn't know TPT you've no doubt seen the pattern. Kim Kardashian at the moment. Paris Hilton before that. The cycle of celebrity who is celebrity because they are are celebrity. Where there is both a symbiotic but toxic relationship with the media, that is trying to simultaneously hold them up while tearing them down.

Where am I going with all of these rambling anecodtes? Just one more to go, I promise.

I was at PauseFest a couple of weeks ago, an event full of creative and entrepreneurial people listening to various talks about design, creativity, tech, and business. Listening to a panel talking about failure and hearing first hands accounts from people who had risked, and lost, it all only to pick it up and start again and find new success elsewhere. There was an international guest on the panel. And so eventually, it came. The question. It always comes when there's an international guest in town. I don't blame the moderator, he did a great job running the session. And he was just following a well trodden path of the dozens before him over the last 6 months. A dozen or so tech, startup, and entrepreneurial events recently. Most of them with a foreign expert fielding questions on how to help the local startup scene. And so, eventually, it arrives:

What do you think we should do to address the tall poppy syndrome in Australia?

... or a variation on that theme.

The thing is, it's nonsense a claim. Especially the "in Australia" bit. Envy and resentment aren't uniquely Australian traits. They're an unfortunate part of the human condition. Anybody taking the time to read the linked Wikipedia article will see the references to related concepts in other cultures. All of the travelling guests immediately get it. It's not a new idea. They just didn't have a name for it. A recent episode of NPR's Hidden Brain even discussed evidence that the traits exist among chimps and early human societies. This is something that cuts across industries, cultures, generations, and even species.

What does feel uniquely Australian is the regular complaining about the idea that you might, one day, be on the receiving end if you're successful. Like some kind of excuse. Why should you even bother if people are just going to cut you down? Fine. Then don't. Everyone else who was already going to do something will get on with the work of getting it done.

I don't think Brady gave a damn that I wanted him to lose.

Hi, I'm Glenn! 👋 I'm currently Director of Product @ HashiCorp, and we're hiring! If you'd like to come and work with me and help make Terraform Cloud even more amazing we have multiple positions opening in Product ManagementDesign, and Engineering & Engineering Management across a range of levels (i.e., junior through to senior). Please send in an application ASAP so we can get in touch.