Why Synergy Doesn't Happen
And first, I wanna talk about a lie that we've been told our whole life, which is the lie of synergy. Synergy is that thing that they say where one plus one can equal more than two, and when you get groups of people, sometimes you can have it. Turns out that this does not usually happen, and this is the first thing to understand in order to properly get at that question of how do we become better rather than destroying ourselves? I wanna start with a story that took place during kind of the great nuclear stand off we had after we invented nuclear energy or learned how to harness it. Then, we started making bombs, starting pointing them at each other, and we had this Cold War stand off. During the Cold War, there was this sort of ongoing competition between Russia, the Soviet Union, and the nations known as the West. This competition was not just over politics and economies, it was over anything that could be a proxy for that. So chess and going to space, and in one area where the Russi...
ans and the Americans competed, there was no competition and that was hockey. It turns out in hockey, the Soviet Union never lost. They had this dynasty that they called the Red Army that for decades and decades, from the 50's through the 80's, they were so good that they won just about every major international championship. They'd go years and years and years without losing a single match to the point that the one time that the US beat them, they called it a miracle on ice. And even then, they had all sorts of excuses because they put in the B team 'cause they thought they were gonna win. And there was politics going on, even then they almost won in this miracle that happened. So here's the starting line-up for my favorite crew among the Red Army. This guy, Viacheslav Fetisov. I'm probably gonna butcher these pronunciations. Vlog can help me out if I do this. This guy was a natural born leader. He was this decorated hockey god, he would score more points than anyone in the leagues, besides maybe Wayne Gretsky and some of these other classic hockey heroes in Canada. But on the Soviet team, he was unstoppable. They said he was charming and terrifying, like a bear, you can imagine. Then, there was his buddy, Alexei Kasatanov. He was disciplined, he was extremely patriotic. He was unflinching, you could hit a hockey puck at his face, he would not move. And he was the best friend of Fetisov on and off the ice. Then, you have Krutov, who was the forward. He was known as the Russian tank. He was five feet nine and 200 pounds, and he was like a beer keg on skates. You couldn't knock him over, and there was Sergei Makarov, he was the sniper. Goalies hated him, they feared him. He could make a goal from anywhere on the ice. He was super reliable, there was Tretiak, the goaltender, who was known for being fearless and stoic and quick thinking, and then there was my favorite, there was the team captain, Valery Vasiliev, who was known for punishing opponents while hungover from all night partying the night before. He was the guy that everyone on the team was friends with. He would party with them, he was there for them. They knew they could count on him personally, no matter how hard he pushed them, and he even once finished a game after having a heart attack on the rink. So, you can imagine, these guys were monsters. I would be terrified to play against them. So, they were unstoppable for years and years and years, and then, when the Iron Curtain came down, Berlin Wall fell, and they were finally allowed to play for anyone other than the Soviet Union. So they got recruited by all these American and Canadian NHL teams and given these massive salaries. And so, they one by one left Russia to go to these teams. Massive salaries, my favorite quote I saw in a news report during this time, one of these guys, who said, "In my country, I am like homeless dog. "In this country, I have million dollars." That was his thing, so they didn't get paid much, but they had this incredible patriotism. But when they could go play for million dollar salaries, they did. They were welcomed as heroes and stars, and every team kind of got different ones, right? They all went to different teams, and they were going to change the way that the NHL played hockey. And they all sucked, all of 'em sucked. Guys that would make 70 points a season would make three points a season. Suddenly, they just didn't have it. There's something magic about what they had when they were together, but they went to the NHL and it became very obvious that these were not, they were great individual players, but they weren't the best individual players. It's actually only when they were together that they were that good, and so, slowly and slowly the news headlines changed from the Russians are here to change the NHL to the Russians are no longer starting on their teams and why did we pay them so much money? And they got traded from team to team, and Fetisov, the guy who was charming and terrifying like a bear, he went into a slump. He was fairly depressed, he wasn't even the top ten scorers of his own team for the New Jersey Devils. Whereas, he was the best, so... I tell you this story to introduce this lie that we've been told our whole lives. This lie of synergy that when we come together, two human beings can equal more than two. Turns out that this almost always doesn't happen, that in the history of hockey, this Russian army team is kind of the only example that you see of that actually happening. And yet, there's been hundreds and thousands of hockey teams that they have to work together because that's the game. Teamwork is what you do, but you don't get better with each other. You actually just are with each other. Turns out that science has proven that two heads are usually not better than one, which is, you know, that kinda sucks almost as much as going and getting a million dollar salary and not making any points. Even though, this is one of my favorite, weird clip art things. This is us as happy cavemen, the reason we won planet Earth was because we could work together. We have fragile bodies compared to the saber tooth tiger, compared to the wooly mammoth. It's hard to survive when you have bodies like ours, and yet we have these great brains. And we had features that other animals did not that allowed us to win by banding together. So we could form tribes, we could make fire, we could invent things so that we can survive with our great brains, even though we were not as fast as the cheetah. And there's all these things, all these features that equipped us to do this. So there's a reason that we're dogs' masters, and they love us so much, rather than the other way around. One of those reasons is we can make whole range of sounds with our vocal chords that dogs cannot. So we can communicate, versus other primates, you can see the whites of our eyes are three times the size of any primate, which means when I'm looking at something, when I'm working on something, you can tell what I'm doing and you can help me out. It becomes extremely useful when we're collaborating, when we're trying to survive. This is also one of my favorites. This, yes, is a hipster and a gorilla, I like that one. Our brains are equipped for this thing called empathy, which means that we mirror each others' emotions, that we feel what other people are feeling. So when you're being chased by a saber tooth tiger and you're filled with adrenaline, I will fill up with adrenaline too so that I can run also and maybe help you out. So we can band together, and we can defeat the threat. This also helps us to care about each other and to want to work together, even when it's my personal best interest not to because this is how we survive. So we've got all these things that equip us to be really good at making things together and beating any other species that's been on this planet, but that doesn't mean that we add up to some sort of synergestic multiple together. Turns out that when researchers put people in rooms together to shout as loud as they could, they said, "Yell at the top of your lungs as loud as you can," and it turns out that when you're in a group of six, you will yell 74 percent as loud, even if you think you're yelling at the top of your lungs. Turns out that when they put people for the tug of war, if you're tugging on a rope by yourself, you'll exert more force than if you're in a group, even if, like these two kids, you think you're tugging your absolute hardest. Now, some people will say this is social loafing. Someone on this team is not holding up their end because they're in a group, that happens a lot. Some will say, "Well, it's the coordination of your arms "and feet and everything when you're doing a tug of war." That happens too, we've all seen that. The bigger our company gets, the slower it will get 'cause you would have to coordinate. All that's true, but even if you think you're pulling your hardest, subconsciously, psychologically, you will do a little bit less when you're in a group, which is strange. And there's reasons that they hypothesize for it, but nonetheless, it's true. This is one of my favorite sequences of stock photos that I like to call, "White Guy Leads Brainstorm Session." So over and over, researchers have shown that when groups of people sit around a table to brainstorm ideas, they will come up with fewer ideas and fewer good ideas than those same people will brainstorming on their own. And then, if they just combine their lists, it's sort of depressing. My favorite quote on this, second favorite quote, actually. "Business people must be insane "to use brainstorming exercises," according to one of the researchers that knows. Most favorite quote is the one that goes something like, "As surely as cigarettes lead to cancer, "brainstorming leads to not as good ideas," so... This is just something that happens, and there's reasons for this that they pause it. When we were surviving around the camp fires, the worse thing that could happen is for us to be kicked out of the tribe to have to go fight the saber tooth tiger on our own. So we will subconsciously hold back risky propositions. Even if we're told any idea's a good idea, that doesn't actually happen. Even if we think, "No, I'm gonna be as risky as possible," subconsciously, our brains prevent us from doing that. And then there's also this thing, another great stock photo. When humans come together to work things out, we often tend to fight, we disagree. We are different, and that leads us to get in each others' faces, to slow down the bigger group of people that's working on something. The more likely it is, that group will have problems, even to the point of trying to destroy each other. Sometimes, our collaborations turn into, "Let's get rid of that other person "or that other group so we can get our way." Again, think about congress, but the reality is... we need more than one person to build anything important. You can't build a building by yourself. We built civilization and cities and society because we could work together 'cause we had those features, even though they slow us down. You can't do a heart surgery with just one person. I dare you to try. You can't clean the stadium between games with just one person. Anything that's big or that's important to us requires collaboration. So we endure this loss of productivity that comes with group work. We endure the squabbles and the fights that we get into when we have to work together with people who are different. We even get to the point where we put up walls against other people who are not like us and put them on the ground so that we don't have to deal with their different way of seeing things, and then things escalate and we beat out plow shares into swords. And we turn the wonderful science of nuclear energy into a bomb. It sucks. And yet, every once in awhile, I'm sure you've felt this. We're part of a group of people where it seems like whatever is going on is magical. Like we can kind of do the impossible, like together we can see further. This happens, you've felt this. Anyone that's started a family knows that once in awhile, one human plus another human can equal more than two, and this is a beautiful, amazing thing. This is how every great social movement happened is when people linked arms and put their heads together and became more than the sum of their parts. Social movements don't happen when the majority of people get on board with something. It happened when groups of people who are under matched and underfunded somehow mange to change the world. So this happens, it's just rare, which brings me back to the Red Army. So after a few years of these Russian hockey players not doing very well in the NHL, a coach of one team, Scotty Bowman, who is the coach of the Detroit Redwings, he started quietly gathering up these hockey players again. And he traded for a bunch of these players. He got them for good prices and put them all back on the same team again, and it was a new, reborn Russian Five. And he did this, and then he said, "You know what, do whatever you want. "I'm not giving you a playbook, just play however you want." And then that first year that they were back together, they won more games than any NHL team. The second year, they won the Stanley Cup. The third year, they won the Stanley Cup. All of their starters won awards and trophies, and they were suddenly unstoppable again. And these guys were not young. This was years, they were on the cusp of aging out of this sport. They were certainly not the best players out there anymore, and yet together, this is my favorite quote from Fetisov, "Back together again, it was like "a fish being back in water." There was something magical about what happened with these guys, and we're gonna explore the underlying science of what made them tick and what can also make us tick a little bit better. But the fundamental truth is that when humans come together, we either break down or we break through.