In the development of humanity, we naturally evolved to fear the unknown, to be wary of new people, those who were outside of our own stone age ‘tribe.’ But at the time, it was rare for someone new to appear, and if they did, it was probably with hostility as their intent.
In today’s world, human being have naturally found themselves surrounded by new people on a daily basis. Even from a young age, in school, we meet more new people than our ancestors would have in their entire lives. I remember that through four years of high school, I didn’t know my entire graduating class, and there were quite a few of them I never even spoke to, simply from the fact that our paths never crossed. Colleges and Universities today have tens of thousands of students, and urban centres are packed with a large population in a small area. Walk around any city in the world and it’s likely that even after 10 years there will be people living there you have never even been in sight of.
Much of our life as national communities these days revolves around fear. A significant portion of mass media coverage is for the scary news – A murder, fear of a disease, economic meltdown, war. This post isn’t about the problems I have with mass media, but it needs to start with why we are weary of other people to some degree when we first meet them.
All this put together, fear in the media, genetic disposition to distrust new people, and huge population densities – It all cripples our ability to want to work with others.
And yet so many times in our lives we are told we have to ‘play nice with others.’ When we get into the working world, everything is about ‘be a team player,’ ‘teamwork is the most important thing.’ Seems like one big contradiction. But I think I’ve figured it out.
The secret is that working together with others can be extremely beneficial. A true winning partnership can utilize the twice the resources to accomplish more than twice the work. This concept is called Synergy.
It’s a popular business buzzword these days, but synergy is more basis than that. It essentially means 1 + 1 = 3. It means that two people together can accomplish far more than they could apart. And if you have three people, or ten, or one hundred, or ten thousand, the accomplishment can be astronomical. This principle is the driving force behind the luxuries of the world.
I heard a great example of this once. Think about something relatively simple: A computer mouse. No one in the entire world knows exactly how to make a computer mouse from the resources we have in nature. But with the combined effort of thousands of people, anyone can have this advancement. There is a person to produce the plastic, a person to mold it, a person to smelt the metals used, a person to build the circuit, a person to program it, etc. You get the idea. The point is that with the synergy of all these people, we can enjoy advances that our new-person-fearing ancestors could never dream of.
So why, with all this stimulation and genetics backing up our fear and distrust of other people, do we overcome it and gain synergy? How do we manage to put it aside and work together?
Part of it is incentives. When we work for a company, they are paying for us to work with other people to accomplish great things. We may not like it, but we do it because the reward (the promise of food, shelter, clothing, luxuries, good life for our family) is worth the risk of interacting with a few hundred new people.
But there is another level to this. If we can overcome our fear, our genetics, our natural disposition of distrust, could we work with other people in a larger capacity? Could we get greater gains than we do with incentivized teamwork?
It’s not easy to overcome our brain’s natural fear and distrust. It takes practice, but if we can learn to look for synergy in every facet of our lives, it’s amazing what we can accomplish. The caveat is that we often go into dealings with others expecting more for ourselves than we want the other person to have. Consider this example:
A person comes up to you in a public place and says they have $100. They then say they are going to give you $20, and give a person walking near you $80. They give you the option to refuse the money and then you and the other person both get nothing. What do you do?
I’ve found that about half of people will refuse the money outright. ‘It isn’t fair, why should they get more then me? Screw them!’ When the reality is that if you just look at yourself in the equation, you’re choosing between $20 and nothing. Seems obvious right?
Well here’s the truth. Life isn’t fair. Nobody is going to give you what everyone else gets, and sometimes others will get more than you. But if you’re getting something out of it, who cares if someone else gets more? This is the win-win deal.
The best way to work together is to find a win-win deal. Where you and the other person get something you want out of a deal that neither of your would get on your own. Then you don’t worry about who gets more, because you both succeed. Every deal you ever make should be win-win.
That’s the secret to overcoming our fearful nature. It’s the secret to finding synergy. That’s the secret to great teamwork.