How Tackling Envy is Key for Leaders in the New Economy

EnvyIf you were to ask me who my roles models are in life, the first two names to come to my mind would be Fritjof Capra and Otto Scharmer. There are of course a great deal many more people who have inspired me, but when I get into difficult or demanding situations, ones where I do not always know quite what the best reponse would be, I often ask myself “What would Fritjof do?” or “What would Otto do?”

If this may seem a little strange, I can give you a very good example, which is happening as I write. For a long time now I have really wanted to write about jealousy and envy, and how these impact on co-creation, leadership, innovation and sustainability. While Otto of course is a thought leader relating to the shift from ego to eco, I could not find any reference in his writings to envy.


I believe that Brazilian journalist and writer Zuenir Ventura once said that envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that no one ever talks about (“Só a inveja se esconde”). It is the one emotion no one ever admits to experiencing. I for one though do feel that we need to have a discussion about envy, since it impacts so heavily on co-creation, innovation, sustainability and what many people are referring to as the sharing economy.

At this point we should probably stop and consider the definitions of envy and jealousy. Officially, envy relates to the emotions you experience when seeing someone who has something that you do not have, and jealousy relates to the emotions relating to you reactions to other people in relation to something you have, often a person, i.e. your partner. I am not so sure that people makes these distinctions in real life, and in this article we will mainly look at envy, but I am sure also jealousy will play a role too, as often these emotions are mixed up in complex human affairs.

Here are just a sample of quotes about envy I found on

Never underestimate the power of jealousy and the power of envy to destroy. Never underestimate that.
Oliver Stone

Envy comes from people’s ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts.
Jean Vanier

Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.
Harrold Coffin

People who make the choice to study, work hard or do whatever they endeavor is to give it the max on themselves to reach to the top level. And you have the people who get envy and jealous, yet are not willing to put that work in, and they want to get the same praise.
Evander Holyfield

I like these quotes as they show different sides and effects of envy. If we look at the general trends in innovation, sustainability and new business thinking, it is all about the move towards working in networks, co-creation and sharing. But if we do not address our shadow selves, especially envy, then as I said in a previous article, instead of ending up with an authentic network, we will in fact end up with a dysfunctional knotwork (see Beware of Knotworks: Networks with Ego).

The squiggle of Knotworking

The squiggle of Knotworking

How do these dynamics therefore play out in real life? If we take a look at co-creation on Google Images, the results look a little like this:



I love all of these images as they show co-creation at its very best. But many times it doesn’t happen like this when envy plays a role. Envy can interfere in the co-creation process in various ways, including the exclusion of those who are envied from any co-creation events and sharing itself, let along the dynamics of the co-creation process.

We are facing many extremely complex problems on this planet, and we do not know where the greatest solutions will emerge from. In our organisations, when we see others experiencing success, instead of tapping in to this unlimited pool of potential, in a rage of envy and jealousy we may go on the attack, despite the hurt it may do to the whole, including, ironically, ourselves. As the saying goes, envy can cause us to cut off the nose to spite the face.

In a recent essay on power, status and sustainability, Jo Confino made reference to The Sandals of Humility which Maria and I introduced at Sustainable Brands London last month.

Humility is a trait that Maria and I discuss a lot, since when we are humble, we are able to see other people as they truly are, and not through the prism of our projects of who we think they are based on our insecurities, fears and judgements. We therefore need a huge dose of humility if we are to be genuine co-creators, otherwise we will always be controlling, restricting and resisting, rather than allowing that which is new to emerge and flower from the group as a whole.

There is nothing wrong with looking up to people, and seeing how their performance, knowledge or skills are better than ours if we then harness our positive powers of motivation to better ourselves and reach our own goals and visions. We constantly need role models to help us on our paths. But if we allow ourselves to collapse into envy, that is when the troubles begin.

Flávio Gikovate also once said that the glamorous celebrities with fabulous lifestyles and who are always smiling in celeb magazines in public are the same people who are crying on his psychiatrist’s couch in private. Sometimes we would do well to keep our envy in check, since the temptation is to compare our internal strife with other people’s outward appearances of success. This works both ways. Those who achieve genuine success have often overcome countless ordeals and challenges, something those who desire success without effort often overlook.

So is there a workable solution? As always, for Maria and myself we strive to lead our lives in harmony with the five universal human values of peace, truth, love, right-action and non-violence. Non-violence also includes non-violence in thought, and at times when provoked this can be a tricky thing to maintain. For me most of my effort I would say is taking the plank out of my own eyes before attempting to remove the speck of dust in someone else’s, but if I can help inspire people along the way then all the better.

But I did feel I have to address envy in some way. It can be such a destructive dynamic, and one that is very hard to spot in organisations and networks if we are not sensitive to it, we have to start to learn as leaders how to channel the energies and emotions into more positive endevours. And that is when authentic co-creation can really start to work its magic.

Related Articles

Beware of Knotworks: Networks with Ego

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