Ego Awareness. (Episode 77)

Ego Awareness. (Episode 77)

Interview with Eduardo Mendes, Head of People & Leadership at Sonae.

Ego can be great for creativity. Just think of all the amazingly creative people throughout history with egos as big as hot air balloons, from Picasso to Steve Jobs.

A big ego can push an idea forward when no one else believes in it, sell an idea that no one initially wanted to buy, and make people go on grand creative explorations.

But Ego can also be dangerous for the creative process.

For every Steve Jobs there are hundreds of wanna-be innovators and wanna-be entrepreneurs who had huge egos which made them fail spectacularly.

So while Ego can help make great ideas happen, it’s also crucial to practice Ego Awareness if you want to become creative.

I talked about Ego Awareness with Eduardo Mendes, Head of People & Leadership at Sonae, a Portuguese business group active across multiple industries, from retail, telecommunications, technology, and investment management to real estate. They have over 50,000 employees and are active on all continents.

Eduardo has spent his whole career in HR, and he is passionate about developing people to their full potential and of course creativity is an important aspect for him.

I asked Eduardo for his perspective on creativity and he gave me: “Your creative potential depends on the size of your world. Both your inner world and your external world. The more curious you are and the more you learn, the more creative you can become. Creativity is based on the references and the connections in your mind.”

For Eduardo it is crucial that people continue to learn.

He talks about two kinds of people:

a) The people who think they know it all.


b) The people who – like Socrates – know they know nothing, and want to learn it all.

And it is obvious which category Eduardo wants people to be, or as he told me: “We want people to study the world. If you have a “know it all spirit”, you will limit your ability to experiment creatively. Odds are that you even have a lot of blind spots that your ego does not allow you to see. If you have a “Learn it all spirit” you will be more curious, more open to learn new things and, therefore, make more and new connections in your mind. Thus, be more creative.”

He reminded me of how an Ego-boosted Nokia, with a market share of 40,4% of all mobile phones in Q4 2007, suffered from a “know it all mindset”. A few years later the Nokia CEO Stephen Elop famously uttered: “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.”

Eduardo is determined that Sonae – which is the biggest employer in Portugal will not suffer from the same “know it all mentality” that brought down Nokia.

Eduardo: “When ego gets in the way it’s horrendous for creativity.”

I asked Eduardo for what the antidote is for unhealthy Egos in an organisation.

He laughed and said:

“First of all: The best way I know is through coaching, or even better, by developing a coaching culture. Coaching helps people reflect on who they really are. Self-awareness is the mother of all competencies.

Second: Feedback. With a culture of feedback you get both the advantage of helping people learn and improve by getting constant feedback on what they are doing right, or wrong – but you also get a culture of empathy where the people who give the feedback become more empathic as they have to think of others.

Right now at Sonae, we need to pay close attention to the role of our egos, as the success of the company so far is no guarantee for future success. In other words, there is the need to continuously develop our ego awareness. Success can inflate your Ego…”

Eduardo is determined not to let that happen on his watch.

How is your Ego Awareness? How would others think of yours? Are you curious enough to ask others about it?

Think of Ego as a big red balloon. The bigger the ego, the bigger the balloon. And the bigger the balloon, the bigger the risk that it gets in your face and prevents you from seeing what you are supposed to see.

Practice Ego Awareness to keep your ego in check – to keep your creativity fresh and healthy.

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