It’s easy to think, especially in a competitive world, where jobs may be getting scarcer and success and recognition seem harder to achieve, that we have to be the best.

We need to be the best artist or mathematician in our class. We need to get the highest grades or go to the best university if we are to have any chance of succeeding. We must have more Instagram followers than our friends, earn more money than our neighbours, and get promoted above our colleagues. We must be better than others: either innately more talented and more intelligent, or putting in more time to ensure that we become it. Only if we do this, will we be ‘more successful’ – whatever that means.

It was during the height of this lockdown world - where I’ve been swept up in the wave of ‘self-improvement’- that I listened to a TED talk about Superchickens, from Margaret Heffernan. Superchickens might sound like characters in Chicken Run, or Marvel’s strange new franchise, but it in fact refers to chickens selected for their high egg production rates. They are ‘the best’ chickens, producing by far the most eggs of all their poultry peers. But this experiment goes on to show that it is not, in fact, the teams of Superchickens that are ultimately most successful. It’s actually teams of normal, everyday chickens.

Of course, there’s a leap from chickens to humans, but Heffernan goes on to reference research showing that the most successful people, the most successful groups, and the means of generating the best outcomes are not down to individual brilliance either. Instead, it has been shown that helpfulness, of all things, routinely outperforms individual intelligence.

This reminded me of a book I read a few years ago, which I highly recommend: Give and Take, by Adam Grant. Through a series of examples and scenarios, Grant demonstrates that those who pay it forward and have concern for the success and well-being of others, as well as (rather than at the expense of) themselves, end up being most successful.

This in turn got me reflecting on our current, strange and challenging lockdown world.

Life is hard: loneliness, anxiety and poor mental health are increasingly affecting us. Future education, work and housing options are uncertain. Our societies, their health services and economies are facing challenges on an unseen scale. Global crises such as climate have been brought into sharper focus, the need for quick action made even more evident. This is a world that needs solutions. It needs individuals and teams to be successful in finding vaccines, reimagining the world of work, tackling mental health and isolation. This is a world that needs helpfulness.

Not just because ‘it’s nice to be nice’ - we must help each other. Social bonds and relationships, and support from those around us, have been shown to increase our resilience, and to produce better results.

I’ve seen it among my team. They’ve always been fantastic in the way they support each other, they’re always there to offer advice, or answer a query. But as we’re entering our fourth month of remote working, it’s striking me more than ever how much they help each other, and how much better we are as a team because of it. They are turning up for each other, day after day, with games and quizzes, words of advice and encouragement, offers of support, a friendly smile, or a listening ear.

Of course I see it in our wider network, too. Mentors supporting their mentees with video mentoring sessions, sharing advice and ideas over email, encouragement via a quick text, or just letting them they’re there. And the girls – both mentees and ambassadors – always looking outwards, asking us how they can support each other. How can they show up for those affected by racism? How can they listen, learn, educate?

We are all in this together, and having a mentor is having a friend you can talk to about how you’re coping…working together [to] turn this situation in to an opportunity – Laila, mentee

So, let’s not try and be Superchickens – feeling like we need to be better than those around us in order to succeed. Rather, let’s learn from Adam Grant, from Margaret Heffernan, from my team and our wider network, and from girls like Laila, and offer each other a listening ear and a helping hand.

by Charly Young, CEO and co-founder of The Girls' Network