William Muir of Purdue University has studied the behavior of chickens. He was interested in productivity. It is easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs. He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised an experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations.
Then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.
After six generations had passed, what did he find? The first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest. 1
According to Margaret Heffernan, for the past 50 years, we’ve run most organizations and some societies along the superchicken model. We’ve thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest people in the room, and giving them all the resources and all the power. The result has been just the same as in William Muir’s experiment: aggression, dysfunction and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.
The legal profession is another example of the superchicken model, especially when we view the activity of lawyers engaged in litigation. We have an adversarial legal system. Litigation leads clients to choose superlawyers. These lawyers create value for their client’s in a very inefficient way—by defeating, suppressing their opponent.
I’ve had the privilege to talk to persons who have been through nasty, expensive divorces. No matter the outcome, it is difficult to label either party the “winner” in such a case. The clients are spent emotionally and financially.
I have found that there is a better way. When lawyers engage in problem solving with an emphasis on cooperation, they create social capital for their clients. Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation, and services are rendered for a common good. 2 After a divorce, it remains a high priority for many clients to retain a respectful, even friendly relationship with their ex-spouse; the existence of common interests, such as children and grandchildren, call for this.
Collaborative law is an increasingly popular way for people to handle the problem of marriage dissolution. This approach starts with the premise that the parties will not litigate.
When a divorce is necessary, discernment is required to avoid the wrong result. In other words, when you set out to retain your superlawyer, make sure he or she is not a superchicken.
by Patrick Gaffney
1 Heffernan, Margaret. “Forget the Pecking Order at Work”. Retrieved from: www.Ted.com. June 2015.
2 Wikipedia. Social Capital.