This post is here to celebrate “The power of we” as part of the blog Action Day 2012.
It is undeniable that there is an amazingly huge power in the “We”. Common wisdom affirms that two heads are better than one. But truth is, it takes more than just gathering two, three, hundreds of heads to render better results. The real power of we comes from an understanding of the underlying forces of the social ties that we weave among ourselves, a better grasp of our social networks. I find the bucket brigades example, from Nicholas Christakis’ book connected, a telling illustration of the difference:
Imagine your house is on ﬁre. Luckily, a cool river runs nearby. But you are all alone. You run back and forth to the river, bucket in hand, toting gallon after gallon of water to splash on your burning home. Unfortunately, your efforts are useless. Without some help, you will not be able to carry water fast enough to outpace the inferno.
Now suppose that you are not alone. You have one hundred neighbors, and, lucky for you, they all feel motivated to help. And each one just happens to have a bucket. If your neighbors are sufﬁciently strong, they can run back and forth to the river, haphazardly dumping buckets of water on the ﬁre. A hundred people tossing water on your burning house is clearly better than you doing it by yourself. The problem is that once they get started your neighbors waste a lot of time running back and forth. Some of them tire easily; others are uncoordinated and spill a lot of water; one guy gets lost on his way back to your house. If each person acts independently, then your house will surely be destroyed.
Fortunately, this does not happen because a peculiar form of social organization is deployed: the bucket brigade. Your hundred neighbors form a line from the river to your house, passing full buckets of water toward your house and empty buckets toward the river. Not only does the bucket brigade arrangement mean that people do not have to spend time and energy walking back and forth to the river; it also means that weaker people who might not be able to walk or carry a heavy bucket long distances now have something to offer. A hundred people taking part in a bucket brigade might do the work of two hundred people running haphazardly.
So when the ties are purposely woven to accomplish a common goal, the group/network becomes more powerful than the nodes, and the power of We shines in all its brightness. Pretty simple, right? Then why are most of us still running into the second situation? Why are we incapable of effectively leveraging the networks around us to achieve the change we’re hoping for?