We is bigger than you
As published on Switch & Shift on February 25, 2014. You may have witnessed it yourself: living clouds created by thousands of starlings flying together, commonly referred to as ‘murmuration’. The way in which all the birds suddenly change direction or speed as if they were a single entity still remains one of nature’s secrets, with most scientists assuming starlings undertake this unique collective motion in order to reduce predation risk. In a similar way, great organizations are more than just the sum of great individuals: organizational strength, progress and resilience are determined by the extent to which individual employees ‘fly together’ as if they were a single entity working towards a common goal.
Just recently two Michigan State University evolutionary biologists offered new evidence that evolution does not favor the selfish. “We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean. For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn’t evolutionarily sustainable,” said lead author Christoph Adami. Their study reconfirms that humans are a ‘we-species’ at heart, nevertheless often suffering from the ‘illusion of I’. Did you know that even Thomas Edison was not operating alone, working with a team of 14 or so engineers, machinists and physicists with Edison splitting his time between inventing, dealing with clients and investors and speaking to the press?
So with human beings being fundamentally social with only a bit of independence, how can you better benefit from building a ‘we-powered’ culture?
1. The intelligent WE
In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki already highlighted the overall idea that groups of people make smarter decisions than individuals. In an opening anecdote, he shares the story of a crowd of people at a county fair guessing the weight of an ox. When averaging their individual guesses, the result proved to be more accurate than any of the estimates made by cattle experts separately.
In a similar way, smart organizations tap into the collective wisdom of employees, customers and other critical stakeholders. Take the example of Best Buy. Since 2008, more than 3,000 Best Buy employees registered for its Twitter customer service channel Twelpforce. Unlike traditional customer support services, Twelpforce access is not restricted to a select group of highly trained agents, but open to an existing talent pool of employees who welcomed the chance to share their knowledge in their spare time. It is the result of a company-wide team effort, unleashing the collective cross-disciplined wisdom of people throughout the Best Buy organization. Best Buy recently took it a step further launching the Best Buy Unboxed online community, uniting their employees and customers in one place to share their experiences collectively.
2. The happy WE
Are you familiar with the IKEA effect? Its name is derived from the Swedish manufacturer and furniture retailer IKEA, selling many furniture products that require assembly. Different experiments have revealed that, when people use their own labor to construct a particular product, they value it more – even if it is done poorly – than if they did not put any effort into its creation. So having people co-create together will not only contribute to more and better ideas, the mere act of co-creation can drive a more happy company culture.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia managed to confirm this, discovering that human beings are in fact ‘pro-social‘ beings: we derive happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others. In a ‘we-powered’ culture, there is no need for separate team building initiatives as people derive happiness from working and co-creating with each other every single day.
3. The economical WE
Owning assets and intellectual property decreasingly is a required ingredient for business performance. We are moving from an owning economy to a sharing economy, with resources being shared among a wider population of users, thereby driving cost efficiencies. A great example of the unfolding sharing economy is The Street Store in South Africa. It is the world’s first rent-free, premises-free, pop-up clothing store for the homeless, accessible entirely on the street only. With their “hang up, help out” baseline, their mission is to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, making it easier to donate and more dignified to receive.
Think about ways in which you can unlock the principles of the sharing economy in your organization, challenging the idea that your employees or customers necessarily need to own things instead of use them. The opportunities to drive economies of scale and stimulate group cohesion through for example shared office spaces, shared car parks or shared knowledge are massive.
4. The conversational WE
People tend to identify with other people or brands which are aspiring and purposeful to them. Tony Hsieh, CEO at Zappos, knows all about the power of purpose, building his organization around delivering happiness instead of selling shoes: “We asked ourselves what we wanted this company to stand for. We didn’t just want to sell shoes. I wasn’t even into shoes – but I was passionate about customer service.” He knows like no one else that brand identification and great customer experiences are the most important sources of social sharing.
When Universal Studios went to launch the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park, they did it by only telling 7 people. They selected the 7 most influential Harry Potter bloggers and gave them an exclusive face-to-face webinar with the creators and designers and watched the rest happen. After the webinar, the bloggers wrote in great detail about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and people passed it along through Facebook, Twitter and e-mails. Within 24 hours approximately 350 million people had heard of it through trusted referrals.
5. The reciprocal WE
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”, Winston Churchill said. The effects of reciprocal acts of kindness are even larger when these are shared with others.
A great example showing the power of group reciprocity is The Fun Theory, a Volkswagen initiative, stimulating people to come up with ideas that are fun and at the same time change human behavior for the better. Kevin Richardson, winner of the Fun Theory Award, wanted to get more people to obey the speed limit by turning it into a reciprocal concept: people staying within the speed limits automatically participated in a lottery enabling them to gain money for sticking to the rules. The idea was so good that Volkswagen, together with the Swedish National Society for Road Safety, actually made this innovative idea a reality in Stockholm, resulting in an average speed reduction of 22%.
Are people talking in ‘we’ about you?
Have you ever noticed how sports fans talk about their favorite sports team? Right, everything they say is about we: ‘we won the game’, ‘we should not have used this tactic’, ‘luck was not on our side’. If your employees, customers and other stakeholders are talking about ‘we’, this is a sign that you are really reaping the benefits from ‘murmuration’, with everyone flying together in perfect harmony and positive spirit.
Interested in learning more on what steps you are taking to build and cherish a ‘we-powered’ company culture!