What if Ayn Rand and her controversial worldview is actually a far more reasonable picture of reality than many believe, but for all the wrong reasons? While there’s no shortage of opinions on how her ideas should be applied (or more often, rejected), arguing about whether she was right or wrong wastes a bigger opportunity. There’s a way to honor the real truth in her philosophy, just inside a more holistic and accurate picture of our humanity and how we express ourselves through work and business.
Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.Ayn Rand
In short, what if Ayn Rand was both right and wrong?
The profound influence she’s had on modern business and governmental philosophy is undeniable. As we’ve been introducing some new and expanded ideas about leadership, ownership, and values here at EMyth - both in our coaching process and in our overall brand - you might notice some overlap with some of her ideas.
What she had right, in my opinion, were some truths about leadership, self-interest and non-victimhood - the essential truth that it starts and ends with each of us. She helped many get clear about what it means to approach business rationally and without being seduced by “group think.”
The real tragedy was in how narrowly she defined self-interest, positioning it as an “opposite” to service. She couldn’t see how our desires to connect with others, to care and be cared about, are not pathological. That they are always and forever a part of self-interest. What kind of self-interest would possibly ignore the impact we have on our employees, our loved ones, and the world around us?
While she had part of the solution, she became part of the problem by championing one “side” of an argument, instead of finding a truly new view. And yet it is exactly because she stood for her views passionately and without apology that we can agree or disagree with them, and see how they can help us or not.
Self-interest is essential. If someone tells you they run their business based on altruism (putting other people’s interests before their own), you should smile and keep walking. And anyone who doesn’t get that running a business takes a healthy dose of personal ambition, will, and don’t-take-no-for-an-answer, has never run one and probably has some questionable reasoning on what makes an economy grow.
But caring is equally essential. Self-interest without caring is not honest self-interest in my opinion: it’s narcissism. It hardens the heart, robs from the future, and isolates you from good people, ones who have no interest in being around someone who has no room for others’ self-interest, creativity and originality.
(There’s that ‘and’ again.)
In many ways, I don’t understand why Ayn Rand is so controversial. She was a powerhouse, and as imperfect as she and her ideas are, she’s one of the only real original business philosophers we have. Anyone who doesn’t at least respect what it took to do what she did in her time doesn’t understand leadership.
And her philosophy has limits - it falls apart in a globally connected economy where people are discovering that their self-interest has as much, if not more, to do with meaning than it does with money, with finding purpose as much as growing profit.
As Rand beautifully stated: Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.
Self-interest and caring.