Cream Rises to the Top, But Mediocrity Pushes It Out: Gresham’s Law

Cream rises to the top, but mediocrity pushes it out. Ever wonder why mediocre,  unqualified people get promoted? Especially in bureaucracies and dysfunctional companies?  This dastardly phenomenon can be explained in two words: Gresham’s Law. 

What is Gresham’s Law?

Here’s the super short Cliff’s Notes version:

In essence, Gresham’s Law is an economic rule that says that bad money drives out the good. If a government or organization prints and circulates bad money, then the bad currency will oust the good money that is worth more.   This economic principle was first named by Scottish economist Henry Dunning Macleod in 1857, for the sixteenth century Tudor financier Sir Thomas Gresham (pictured at left).  In 1519, Polish scientist Mikołaj Kopernik, (you may have heard of him as Nicolaus Copernicus), stated “bad (debased) coinage drives good (un-debased) coinage out of circulation.”

Now, look at Gresham’s Law on a bigger level, in a non-economic sense:

KardashiansIs there a good news only station on TV? I think you know the answer. Most people would rather watch disasters and drama on Fox News, complain about the state of the union with Glenn Beck, and smut reality shows than watch some show that only covered happy stories and positive, charitable acts. The majority of people would prefer to zone out in front of the Kardashian clan’s meaningless travails and Bad Girls Club than watch a stimulating biography of a successful person on PBS or a personal growth video. Mass mediocrity has driven out quality programming.

What do people tend to share in the workplace by the water cooler? Valuable information or idle gossip? The latter would be correct.

Michelle RheeHave you ever pondered why some lackluster loser is in a high-ranking “leadership” position? Or why mediocre, lazy dunderheads get promoted, despite negative morale with their underlings? Wonder why good people, creative stars get passed over again and again for promotions? Yep, you guessed it–Gresham’s Law.

bad leadershipIn a dysfunctional organization, a “leader” with poor leadership skills will hire a bunch of yes-men and women to surround him so she doesn’t look as terrible as she is. Anyone who raises the bar or excels gets pushed out by the company, or sometimes even shunned. Thus, the organization, gets worse and worse, little to no progress is made due peoples’ egos and power trips blockading and stonewalling innovation.

In order to “fix” a problem, mucky-mucks layer the already cumbersome inefficient organization with more and more directors, managers, commanders, and VPs of this and that. They create task force special operations, charts, and boring PowerPoints to show how they’re fixing a problem. In reality, most of the organization is working hard at not working, looking busy, and maintaining their territory in the overstuffed bureaucracy.

Peter PrincipleThis manifestation of Gresham’s Law can also be an example of the Peter Principle.

Does this all sound like an organization you know? 😉

 NOTE: Real leaders with higher levels of good leadership hire rising stars with potential and specific skill sets, who may even be brighter and better at their job than they are.  They value the human spirit of creativity, encourage their teams to strive for excellence, and value relationships.

What Can You Do to Fight Mediocrity and Gresham’s Law?

woman-hula-hoopAlthough you may be surrounded by a sea of incompetence, the best way to rise above the influence is to be a consistent force for good.

  • Remember you can only control yourself and YOUR actions–what’s inside your own hula hoop.
  • Be a force for good.  Those who are on the fence or who are looking for strong support and good leadership will be attracted to your work ethic, your spirit of excellence, and your positivity.
  • Do your best work, regardless of how downtrodden you feel.     Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters Colossians 3:23 (NIV)  When you focus on the work in front of you, and do it, as if you were doing it just for God, as an act of worship–that will make your work more pleasant and more meaningful. (Time management experts call that uni-tasking, which is way more efficient than mult-tasking).
  • God is in charge. He sees what you’re doing. He knows your heart.  He is the ultimate promoter.  Think of young Joseph, stuck in the dungeon. God saw his work, his leadership and promoted him to one of the highest positions in Egypt.
  • Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to new opportunities.   A few years ago, when I was stuck in a dead-end job, fretting about finances, and the lack of fairness in the workplace, the Holy Spirit told me in His still, small voice, “I have paved the way.”  Whenever I began to worry about my dud situation, God reminded me that He had paved the way.  After a few months, a much more lucrative adventure appeared, I grabbed ahold of it with glee and gusto, and stepped into an abundant opportunity far better than my wildest dreams.

Gresham's Law

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