8/6/10, 9:25am – £420 had been raised for Solace Women’s Aid, via 47 separate donors, pitching in between £2 and £100 each.
There is an important idea in Complexity Theory that describes how “patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” The common metaphor is of a flock of birds – there are no ‘leaders’ per se, but there is clearly an aligning of independent efforts that have an effect greater than any of the individual parts – the flock. There have been countless examples of how technology has enabled social ‘flocking’ to occur. What was simply a few combined hours of @andyvglnt and my time, became something far bigger than either our efforts or our means (we are both pretty poor right now) could have achieved. Which leads to the next point…
In the timelines above, what I failed to mention was that about 2 minutes after I sent the 1st Tweet, I got an important phone call from my sister, who I spent the next 45-minutes speaking with. When I got back to the computer, £95 had been raised. @andyvglnt had been pushing it during that time, but more than 20 people had also independently chosen to re-share (‘ReTweet’) the initial message and about 10 had already chipped in money. Most people simply shared the link or made a comment. A smaller number of people made a donation. @andyvglnt and I contributed a couple hours of our afternoon/evening. If you could calculate the total effort, it would likely be a significant sum (given the £420 involved), but was hardly more than a few passing clicks of the mouse, for hundreds of different people.
How communication is changing via technology
Technology was obviously a big enabler in this process, whether as the initial source of information and the distribution platform (Twitter), or as the channel through which funds were received (JustGiving). But what it did was not unique to technology – it amplified and sped-up the natural human urge to share things we find valuable, allowing them to reach far more people than would have ever been possible without it.
The importance of autonomy
When @andyvglnt and I started sending messages back-and-forth, neither of us could foresee what would happen next – but we went ahead, followed our instincts and, when those instincts happen to match up with those of several hundred others, £420 that would otherwise have stayed in individual bank accounts, made it to Solace Women’s Aid. There was no ‘fundraising strategy’, there was no plan that extended more than about 5 minutes into the future, there was just effort, and the snowballing effect of effort that gets reflected and multiplied by others. Very few voluntary organisations I have worked with would be in a position to have enabled this to happen, as how many people in professional jobs – even if women’s rights was at the core of their work – would be able to a) pick-up on a trivial bit of knowledge like ‘Pimp’s dismal opening weekend take, and b) spend the afternoon acting on it, dropping whatever else was on the go?
As Dan Pink outlines in his RSA talk on motivation, how Aussie software company Atlassian (though I don’t often site corporate examples) recognises some element of this (at about 5min40sec): “Once a quarter, on a Thursday afternoon they say to their developers, ‘for the next 24 hours you can work on anything you want… all we ask is that you show the results to the company at the end of that 24 hours.’” The results have been the creation and development of a whole range of new software fixes and products that would never otherwise have emerged.