If you have been reading my book reviews, you may be experiencing a bit of deja vu. A previous post was also titled “Blueprint,” but it was by Robert Plomin. You can find that review here. I suggest reading both, because the ideas go together (and not just because alphabetically these two works would be next to each other on the bookshelf!)
Plomin’s book is about each individual’s set of genes responsible for our unique personalities. In essence. Plomin’s thesis is that (identical twins aside) we are unique individuals primarily because of our genetically determined innate characteristics. Anyone who had kids close together raised by the same parents in the same household knows this; they are very different.
Genes do amazing things inside our bodies, but even more amazing to me is what they do outside of them. Genes affect not only the structure and function of our bodies; not only the structure and function of our minds and, hence, our behaviors; but also the structure and function of our societies.Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint
Christakis’s book, on the other hand, is about how we are the same. Christakis is a sociologist at Yale and writes about how our genetic coding ensures the ways in which we tend towards social sameness. His argument is that our evolutionary success came about because we were predisposed to express particular qualities and behaviors in groups.
This resonates, because, as you may have heard me say before, we are group creatures. Our success depends on our group more than we care to admit. It has been this way for hundreds of thousands of years, and it is probably even more true today than it was 50,000 years ago. We are not likely to survive long on our own… but as a group we do remarkably well.
Our individual differences in skills and abilities are essential for our group’s survival. At the same time our survival and the group’s survival depends on cohesiveness of the group. As suggested in last week’s review of An Everyone Culture, there is no tension between individuals growing in skill and self knowledge and the group’s success; it is one and the same thing, inextricably tied together.
Christakis is focused on the things that keep us together. He calls it “the Social Suite”. At the core of all societies are 8 critical things. They are:
1. The ability to have and recognize individual identity
2. Love for partners and offspring
4. Social networks
6. In-group preference
7. Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)
8. Social learning and teaching
Early in the book, Christakis illustrates the importance of these things. We can’t of course test an hypothesis by setting up a control group in a social setting. However sometimes natural experiments occur, and we can study those.
He compares many instances of groups of people who have been shipwrecked. Some of the groups did remarkably well even under very adverse circumstances. All or nearly all of the people survived and were eventually rescued even years after being shipwrecked. They did so he argues because they modeled these eight essential things for optimal group performance. Other groups in arguably better circumstances, some who were even shipwrecked on the same island at nearly the same time (almost a perfect controlled experiment), had very few or no survivors because they did not embody these essential principles.
Just musing on some of these items in the “social suite” above will probably make it sort of obvious. Groups with authoritarian leaders who were not concerned about the lowest ranked members in the group did much more poorly than those led by more egalitarian leadership of groups who treated members with equality. Bonds of friendship and social learning were also important. The more skills and abilities everyone has the better off the group will be.
The social suite offers a successful, time-tested strategy for group living. Sometimes, groups cannot coalesce to express the social suite. Nevertheless, they do not have any viable alternative to it.Nicholas A. Christakis, Blueprint
In other words, he argues that this is the only successful strategy there is, with success equated to survival. We must embody these things if we are going to survive as a group.
If you were going to be shipwrecked tomorrow would you choose to be shipwrecked with the other people in your company? If not there is work to be done.
Admittedly, this is pretty strong stuff! And of course, in our daily lives we are not in such dire circumstances as a shipwreck (hopefully!) Therefore, we can sometimes get away with poor performance.
Without the social suite, we may survive, but our performance will be miserable. And we will feel miserable. Does this sound familiar?
Autocratic self centered people in leadership positions…people reluctant to share what they know for fear that the organization will no longer need them and will boot them out…lack of compassion and friendship at work… lack of trust in, and care for the group…fear of getting cut from the payroll when the chips are down…sound like a workplace you know of?
Think about it – there is no better example of the “chips are down” than being shipwrecked! Some groups took care of everyone, even the very sick and injured who were unlikely to ever be much help. These groups did far better. Other groups almost immediately left the sick and injured behind. These groups failed catastrophically, even though their circumstances were in many ways better.
Just because we are lucky enough not to be shipwrecked does not mean that we should not be doing everything we can to improve our groups.
When I compare the “Social Suite” with the prosocial core design principles, I see the same theme emerging. And wouldn’t you want these things in your shipwrecked group?
Prosocial Core Design Principles (Elinor Ostrom)
- Strong group identity and understanding of purpose.
- Fair distribution of costs and benefits.
- Fair and inclusive decision-making.
- Monitoring agreed-upon behaviors.
- Graduated sanctions for misbehaviour.
- Fast and fair conflict resolution.
- Authority to self-govern.
- Appropriate relations with other groups.
And wouldn’t you want these qualities in the members of your shipwrecked group?
If you are a leader in your company, it is your job to make sure your group is “coalescing” around the social suite and the prosocial design principles. Or to put it another way, if you are engaged in the embodiment of these things, you are a Leader. That is what leadership is.
Cheers for Friday,
Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter