08/11/2012 10:47 GMT | Updated 07/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Mysterious Ambition

After contemplating the future here I have now started to wonder about the mysterious force of ambition that is driving me and my peers. Traditional gender roles have always painted women as 'less ambitious' than men, but enlightenment is pretty much here. Ambition may have different emphases for women, but regardless of gender, there is sense of discontented ambition to be observed in my generation, a force that is more ambiguous than a plan for our lives. After carrying out some casual research I have distilled three distinct elements of this ambition. I propose that what drives us can be categorized into three elements.

1. Fulfillment of potential

2. Making the world 'better'

3. Vanity

Ambitious people are driven to fulfill their potential. This can be along various axes; whether intellectual, creative, to fulfill our potential for happiness, or simply to fulfill our earning potential. Fulfilling whatever this potential is vital for satisfaction. It is important to understand and embrace this - at a business level it is critical for successful teams and staff retention.

Making the world better is an important force within our generation. This is not about something as glib as 'saving the world' but rather making it better to be in. This is easy to define in my industry - construction. We can make the world better through better buildings, better public realm, better infrastructure. But broaden the context and it applies universally. Perhaps this can be defined better as optimizing situations to maximize the potential of others. Leading to their happiness and success through buildings, or teaching; through art, writing or websites. The more megalomanic of us may wish to change entire operating structures - be it industries or governance. Better systems produce better outputs (and more value).

Finally there is vanity. This is perhaps the most powerful and drives the first two elements. Our measure of our own potential ranges along a vanity scale from pessimistic, through self awareness, to egotism. And to make the world better we must have sufficient self belief to believe that our proposals are the most likely to make the world the most better. To make our mark on the world, we are best propelled by the belief that ours is the best mark.

So vanity is a virtue because it can drive us. But it is also a vice because it can go too far. It could be egotism rather than selfishness that leads to a narrow understanding of value, limited to short term personal rewards. Is that also what can lead people to agree to unrealistic demands from clients? When we mis-judge value or agree to unrealistic demands it leads to poor performance, high cost (financial and personal) and non-fulfillment of potential.

The solution is astute self awareness (of ourselves and our teams) in order to form productive relationships. Value judgements must be widened to focus on people and experience as well as considering future feedback benefits to ensure we maximize opportunity. Honest communication about the implications of actions can be used to breed better relationships and make the world better. Ultimately, otherwise there will be disappointment, and in disappointment nobody realizes their potential.