Does Empathy - or the Lack of - Create Monopolies?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

“Master Switch” author Tim Wu finally helped me understand how monopolies happen. Knowing a little bit about the science of happiness, I could see how that ties in to the human condition, and even more so to our pursuit for happiness and whatever that means to some of us.

Monopolies begin with some ‘courageous’ people taking bold steps to change the world, either by shaking up the status quo (Facebook and Apple) or by empathizing with people’s search for happiness (Amazon and Google) – and all with the intent of making the world a better place.

But are they really? Or are they secretly satisfying an innate, ego-driven, material or narcissistic need?

Ironically, these monopolies are among the best places to work in, and this doesn’t happen without empathy being embedded in their corporate culture. Or is there another dirty trick here?

Many articles and studies have been published around how monopolies stifle innovation and democracy. But here I would like to explore how monopolies stifle empathy and how the lack of it greatly impacts the future of leadership.

Is the Future of Leadership Em…Pathetic?

In his Ted talk, Wu covers five reasons the information market attracts monopolies. The point that got my attention was “the will to power” - a trait that all creators of monopolies share. We are talking about the kind of power that emperors carried out in history to propagate personal agendas and brutally eliminate enemies in the name of ‘Peace’, or so they say.

It is interesting how Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently regarded his fascination with Emperor Augustus of Rome and naming his child August after him. AT&T Founder Theodore Vail’s imperialistic ways were greatly inspired by those of Theodore Roosevelt.

This is no different from what we’re seeing today with Donald Trump in the fight for control over US-China trade talks with its Chinese leaders (and companies like Alibaba) demanding respect before moving forward.

On how these monopolies inspire their employees, ‘extortion’ may be a better word, or “exhorting” as the New Yorker article put it. They give employees everything they want: the cool office spaces, the easy dress code, the limitless vacations and the autonomy to make mistakes, just as long as they keep growing the company with innovation after innovation, and feeding the founder’s hunger for power.

So how is power and wealth linked to empathy and happiness? According to a study published in The Atlantic, people seek power not for the money nor the influence, but for the freedom to do what they like.

While studies have proven that wealth decreases empathy and long-term happiness, so is the case with power. Becoming more powerful does make you less empathic, according to this HBR article. Power changes the way we behave just as lack of empathy changes our neural pathways.

The Business Insider exposes email leaks between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt on firing an innocent Google employee for doing her job.

Even Nursing, one segment of the healthcare industry that was thought to be the most empathic of all of its medical counterparts employing the most compassionate human beings, has recently undergone a wake up call, proving that this was not the case.

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Where is the future of leadership heading to if we continue to support monopolies fueled by the arrogance of its leaders? Or do we need to go deeper and reinvent Capitalism, under which monopolies thrive, to find better ways to meet humanity’s desperation for autonomy? It may take more than empathetic regulators to answer this question.