The industrialized systems in which a lot of us knowledge workers toil unknowingly punishes high performers. Consider a typical engineering firm, as an example. Engineers are paid by the hour to work on projects. And those same hours are charged to the client. Since it's unlikely that an engineer is 100% chargeable all the time, the rate billed to the client includes overhead. Nothing profound here.
Let's consider two engineers, Anna and Betty, who are alike in every way except Anna is slightly more productive. And she's able to complete her work a little faster and a little better. Since they're both charged out and paid the same rates, Anna is not recognized for her incremental contributions. In fact, the company is rewarded for not paying Anna an uptick for her productivity. The company keeps the incremental productivity difference as profit.
So what does Anna do? She'll probably recognize that the system isn't fair and will do one of two things. (1) keep working hard in hopes that she will get a promotion some day over Betty, or (2) work to the mean by finishing her work early and keep the incremental time to herself as buffer.
That's a shame, both for Anna and for us. Anna could leverage her strengths for herself, and keep her incremental productivity as profit for herself. But more importantly, we (as a society) miss out on Anna's increased productivity.
This is an expansion of this topic that's covered in Seth Godin's "Linchpin".