Competing Chickens

In 1990s, Dr William Muir from Purdue University did an experiment with Chickens. You can read more of the details here but suffice to say, he compared 2 groups of 9 chickens – one of which he bred 6 successive generation of the chickens which produced the highest quantity of eggs, and the other being just regular chickens left to reproduce for 6 generations. The 2 chickens were held in 2 separate groups and left alone.

In the second group at the end of the experiment, the chickens were plump, healthy and producing more eggs than they were at the start of the experiment. Yet in the first group, only 3 out of the 9 initial chickens were left alive. The rest were apparently pecked to death by their fellow ‘super chickens’.

So beyond thinking about the level we are getting our people to be striving at, we ought to be considering the adverse impact on our organisations and societies for breeding ‘elites’ who are drunk on the Kool-aid that competition is good for the society. Because what happened with the chickens was that the most productive chickens merely got their success through suppressing the productivity of the rest. In other words, the win-win nature of competition can quickly be exhausted and zero-sum starts to reign.

Then, it comes to our personal choice, to choose to be competing chickens, or the ones who foster a safe, segregated community of cooperators who grow together and have energy channeled towards developing and growing one another rather than just oneself. At the same time, do we also choose to tell ourselves the story of competition being the way to get better outcomes collectively, or to agree to a more nuanced picture of our reality?

Fun fact: Chickens probably have a long history in academic research and goes beyond biology. My economics masters research was also somewhat related to chickens in that we used the prices of broiler chickens to examine the extent of price convergence in the EU following the adoption of Euros.


3 responses to “Competing Chickens”

  1. […] Here is the full TED talk that Margaret Heffernan gave in 2015, with the opening story of the Super Chicken experiment that I referred to in the previous blog post. […]

  2. […] one another, persuade each other to adopt good attributes, refine and sharpen one another. It is not a competition, it is a community, and the objective is not to be better than one another but to be better as a […]

  3. […] obsessed with outcomes is very toxic. And at an individual level, attempting to control outcomes in order to emerge as the champion often can have bad results for the society as a whole. As a society, if we can invest more into how […]