Were you aware of the warm fuzzy feeling that overcame you while
reading the Heartbeats and bear hugs subhead above? Think of puppy dog
tails wagging, a tropical beach at sunset, waves lapping at the shore,
babies smiling. Did your breathing and heart rhythm calm? Did you have a
pleasant sensation in your upper chest and feel happier, more serene,
oh, about three to five seconds later? Did your thought patterns become
more positive? OK, now think of babies being slaughtered, tsunamis
crashing onto buildings, causing mass destruction and your neighbor’s
dog howling in pain. Is your breathing and heart rhythm racing? Do you
feel flushed, fearful and stressed? Did your thought patterns go dark
and negative? An electro-magnetic field radiates from your core that is
either in balance (in sync) or stimulated (out of sync). If you are out
of sync, you are not balanced in your own body much less with others.
When we say a person is polarizing or toxic, is this what we mean? Group
meditations, classrooms and concerts are places where the synchronicity
of those present is essential to the success of the experience. When
synchronicity is sensed by those in a silent Quaker Meeting, it is
called a “gathered” meeting. Harmony is achieved.THE INEVITABILITY OF FACEBOOK
stampede, fish school and bees swarm. Caged animals in a zoo will hug
in family clusters and screech in alarm seconds before an earthquake
hits. Starlings dance and sway in unison preparing to roost for the
evening in a flock large enough to block out the sunset (up to a million
birds). These are all examples of cooperative phenomena. We don’t
entirely understand how or why so many species cooperate, but we presume
that the instinct is that protection against predators can be found in
numbers. The instinct to cooperate applies to modern humans too: We
still cluster for comfort and security like our ancient ancestors.
have a close acquaintance who recently bared his soul on Facebook about
his big breakup—as if all his 568 “friends” were inside his laptop,
ready to comfort him with a gigantic cyber hug. Similarly, a good friend
just included me in a group e-mail detailing the results of her
colonoscopy. Both people live alone but are intensely connected and
loving people whose numbers exceed Dunbar’s.
Our social savvy
gets muddled as our technical abilities become sharpened. Technology has
made it possible for us to snap a photo and know everything about that
person’s identity practically in real time5
contrast, resist having their faces photographed, even for their
driver’s licenses). Are you giving your identity away in the hope of
connecting with others? What are you compromising by doing this? SIX DEGREES OF JOHN BIELENBERG
many Facebook “friends” do you have? It feels shameful somehow to have
less than 500, doesn’t it? But isn’t “friend” often a euphemism for
person-who-may-know-someone-I-may-know? Why do we crave a huge Facebook
roster anyway? Is our drive to connect way out of control? Rick Lax of Wired
magazine challenged Dunbar’s theory by writing to each and every one of
his 2,000 Facebook friends only to find many didn’t even know him.
Hutterites would feel horrified. Dunbar would feel vindicated.
are a small number of mega connectors in the design world-people whom
everyone seems to know personally. John Bielenberg is one. He's an
easygoing nice guy who, besides being bi-coastal, has traveled to over
twenty countries to talk about the value of design and connection. He
puts people together, often in teams, often to affect social change, in
particular through his baby—Project M.6
He says, “I believe
in abundant value instead of scarce value. There is enough stuff to go
around.” He has about two-dozen family members and friends and over 250
professional relationships he cultivates, almost twice Dunbar’s number.
Although Bielenberg also has 1,500 Facebook friends he says, “The closer
the friend, the less is done on Facebook. In fact, there is a direct
inversion. I use Facebook for Project M. It’s a broadcast medium. I
don’t even look at other people’s pages.” Alex Bogusky, Bielenberg’s
partner in common (and a high-profile agency creative director gone
rogue) is a public figure on Facebook with 900 likes. But he has only 40 “friends” mostly family and close friends on his personal page. “It
took Alex a year to friend me.” Bielenberg says. “But then he has over
sixty-five thousand Twitter followers. That’s more his communication
medium,” Bielenberg adds. He admits, “I have lots of balls in the air.
Staying current is a real challenge and a little overwhelming. Plus
engaging in meaningful relationships takes time.” You need to waste time
with those you care most deeply about; that’s what makes them
I currently have 120 friend requests
awaiting confirmation on Facebook; I’m not convinced some of them are
even real people. And a few months ago, when my sister’s identity was
hacked on Facebook, my worst fears were confirmed. I became even more
cautious. Rampant technology in concert with our burgeoning global
population is not only leading to increased wariness, but it’s also
increasing our awareness of the need to cultivate cooperation and trust.
With nine billion people and a stressed planet, we need to turn this
ship around. For that, we need all hands on deck.
WHY DON’T WE CONNECT?
There are myriad reasons people don’t
cooperate—ego, shyness, language, cultural barriers and social
disenfranchisement among them. Introversion is another but it is often
A third to a half of the world’s population,
including many in technology, are introverts. They are the ones who
stare at their laptops during meetings or sit reading a magazine during a
party. Contrary to popular opinion, they like their lives the way they
are (eighty percent self-identify as happy). While extroverts thrive on
stimulation from the world around them introverts want to be quiet, have
a soft voice, look inward. And there is another category—ambiverts—who
need a balance of social stimulation and solitude to thrive. The open
work plan—the teamwork model—isn’t necessarily good for many of these
people. They need privacy and solitude to generate clear thoughts and
Bringing people together on their own terms is not only respectful, it’s essential to cooperation.
isolates us, keeps us from fully engaging. It is an unspoken epidemic
in our culture, the deep dark secret of broken behavior. In the worst
cases, shame drives us to alienation, especially men who are often
expected to be strong in a way women are not. Alan Turing, the father of
computer science, died of shame in 1954. Turing was honestly and openly
homosexual when it was against the law in many parts of the world,
including in England where he lived. After being found guilty of moral
turpitude (i.e., conduct contrary to community standards of good
morals), the government forced him to take injections of estrogen to “cure” his homosexuality. Turing committed suicide by taking a bite of a
poisoned apple after finding his life unbearable.9
professor Brené Brown, who studies vulnerability, says, “Only the
wholehearted don’t experience shame. Those individuals have the courage
to show their vulnerability, to tell others who they are with their
whole heart.” Brown describes these individuals as, “Compassionate to
themselves first, with a willingness to let go of who they think they
should be, to embrace vulnerability for its beauty.” She continues, “Vulnerability is not a weakness; it defines emotional risk,
uncertainty. It’s our most accurate measurement of courage.” Failure is
essential and prevalent in anyone’s life who dares to try. Yet fear of
failure can paralyze us. Shame makes us hide our true selves, keeps us
from making honest connections. Emotional honesty, on the other hand,
nurtures empathy and openness: We learn from our failures and the
failures of others. Witnessing a person we otherwise admire experiencing
a moment of vulnerability inspires us to tap into our own fragile
natures. It connects us, frees us, reminds us we are only human, part of
Creativity is messy, risky and exhilarating.
Acknowledging and embracing shame helps achieve wholeheartedness and
that opens the door to innovation, change and cooperation. CANotes
1. The Moral Animal, Robert Wright.
2. Dunbar’s number, Wikipedia.
3. I Am; the documentary, Tom Shadyac.
4. Paul Zak, “Trust Morality and Oxytocin,” TEDtalk.
5. Jan Chipchase, “Design Anthropology,” PopTech.
7. Paraphrase of a quote from The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
8. Susain Cain, “The Power of Introverts,” TEDtalk.
10. Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” TEDtalk.