Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Are We Wired To Succeed in Isolation?

imageI recently finished a short book by Steven Smith & David Marcum entitled Catalyst (no longer available), which I highly recommend to everyone. In it, they reference a study done by New York University Professor Evan Polman and Kyle Emich of Cornell where the following question was posed to 137 undergraduates:

“A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this?”

Half the students were asked to imagine themselves as the prisoner locked inside the tower (“prisoner group”). The other half were asked to imagine someone else trapped in the prison (“imaginary group”). Forty-eight percent of those who imagined themselves trapped in the tower escaped, while sixty-eight percent of those who imagined someone else solved the dilemma (the prisoner unwound the rope and tied the strands together). Three more related experiments in the same study found that participants were more creative or had better solutions when thinking of someone else. The only variable was the switch from me to we. [p. 40-41]

In the specific experiment, students who pictured someone else being in the tower were 42% more likely to solve the problem than those who imagined themselves in the tower.

Here’s another interesting reference from Catalyst [p.46] regarding me-centric v. we-centric behavior:

Tribal Leadership coauthor Dave Logan discovered that 76 percent of company cultures are me-centered. The more me-centered the culture, the worse the company’s financial performance.

I found it comforting to know that we are wired to be more successful in solving problems when we are serving others. Could it be that Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor and serve others comes with the hidden blessing of being more creative? It makes me wonder what other hidden blessings are waiting to be “proved” with respect to these or other commandments.


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