Group Bootstrapping

One theme that has stayed with me from Minal Bopaiah’s book Equity is the pervasive, unhelpful and fundamentally untrue narrative of rugged individualism that implies that people who succeed did so courtesy of their own hard work and resourcefulness. It’s where the expression “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” comes from, and it denies the powerful role of systems, privilege, interpersonal relationships (and even luck) in how our lives unfold.

In his excellent new book Hidden Potential” Adam Grant offers memorable examples of “bootstrapping” as a group activity — “tying our bootstraps together” — in which scenarios that could have been framed as individual achievements and zero sum games were transformed into collective experiences that resulted in a higher level of achievement for everyone. (In one story, he allowed his students to name someone else whose answer they’d like to use on any one question on a test. It resulted in a lot of collaborative study sessions ahead of the exam, which noticeably raised test scores. We learn something far better when we explain it to others! Providing a “phone a friend” option also lowered student stress considerably…)

This idea is one of my main takeaways from the experience of writing ELASTIC — many activities that we tend to think of as individual, such as being curious or exercising our imagination, or even writing a book, are actually more powerful when done collaboratively.

So my provocation for you today is this: what is something you’ve been doing alone, or framing as a competition or a solo sport, that you could experiment with as a group activity instead? What might that possibility unleash for everyone involved?

I’d love to hear what you try and what you learn.

Hidden Potential is so full of good stuff that it will be the primary focus of this week’s Wiser by Choice conversation taking place Friday, November 10 at 7:30 a.m. ET. You can register for this session for only $79 — I hope you’ll join me!

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