Groups are an essential and important feature of being human. From a tribe, to a village, city, or corporation, it’s our ability to organize that makes homo sapiens an incredibly successful species. Group behavior is responsible for what is best about being human — it allows us to care for each other and create our greatest art, science, and philosophy.
Individual artists or inventors may get the credit, but they can’t do what they do without the societies they work in and the support systems around them. At the individual level, we gain meaning, health, and joy by engaging with groups. Married people tend to live longer, and people with active social connections usually report a greater sense of well-being than people living solitary lives. In groups, we are quite literally a force of nature reshaping ecosystems, climate, and geology.
However, groups can also bring out and amplify our destructive tendencies, whether intentional or incidental. Together we deplete natural resources, poison the atmosphere, wage war, and oppress individual creative spirits. Groups have a will that’s hard to influence — even people at the top frequently feel powerless when trying to create real or lasting change in group behavior.
Yet if we are going to create a better world, we must change our group behavior. How can humans collectively become a more compassionate and intelligent presence on the planet? This is the question at the heart of a new book I’ve written with my wife Alex Jamieson.
Often when we’re trying to improve our society, we focus on individual behavior. We admonish people to recycle, be kind, check their privilege, and challenge their cognitive biases. We admonish leaders to be more moral, and we frequently call specific groups stupid, evil, or uncaring.
But individual intelligence and morality are not what create the biggest impacts. Hitler alone was nothing, and nor was Ghandi. When we look around, it’s easy to spot examples of groups made up of mostly smart and well-intentioned people, who collectively behave in idiotic and even psychopathic ways.
In a world where there is a conflict between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group, the group almost always wins. This in turn means that groups of good people can do bad things — sometimes very bad. In Getting to Hell Yes, we provide a simple tool to help you build better teams and organizations.
Like everyone, I’ve felt first-hand the impact that organizations have had on an individual’s life. I’ve been an activist, a designer, an employee, and even a cult member. I’m a lifelong student of human development and sustainability, and have a deep passion for understanding and improving the human experience.
My goal is to provide insights and tools that will help anyone interested in building kinder, more effective organizations.
Getting to Hell Yes is my next foray into this complex world. It explores how the personal impacts the collective and vice versa.
We’ll be offering ‘Getting to Hell Yes’ and a ton of useful resources — for free — in late September. Please sign up on our website to be among the first to get it.