Having Enough v. The Next Level

Here’s some more from Sutton’s book about assholes, that also ties into the post before that about the “next level.” Sutton has a section about “how to stop your inner jerk from getting out.” In it, he points to a problem inherent in our hypercompetitive, constant growth culture—that desire to get ahead, beat the Joneses, etc. can fuel your inner jerk. One response is to simply recognize that you have enough. He got this idea from Kurt Vonnegut, from a poem he had in the New Yorker just two years ago. It references a conversation Vonnegut was having with Joe Heller, author of Catch-22:

Joe Heller

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel Catch-22
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The Knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!

Kurt Vonnegut
The New Yorker, May 16, 2005

It may seem like a paradox, to maintain a focus on the next level and at the same time know you have enough. And that’s because it is. But it is a critical paradox to hold as a leader. The next level does not bring you what you lack now. The next level allows what you have now to unfold into something new. That’s true for individuals and for organizations.