Motivating Millions

Time for a social revolution

It’s time for a social revolution, and I stress the word “social”.

The accepted norm is still to focus on our individual natures.

We sit at our computers and are judged and rewarded on our individual performance at work.

At school we are judged on our individual performance in exams.

We ignore fellow bus or train passengers. In hospitals and surgeries we often don’t speak to those around us.

Everywhere people check out their smartphones to ‘connect’, but become isolated in doing so.

And yet any anthropologist will tell you that we are social by nature.

Social physics

When we are social at work or school or anywhere else it is often by accident. We meet at the café, pass each other in the corridor, say hello on our way in or out of work.

And yet one of the world’s experts in how we work together shows how a focus on the social can improve group performance by tuning into our social natures.

In his book “Social Physics”, MIT’s Alex Pentland draws on big data to help improve performance. He tunes into how people interact at work and draws out two key social measures that are key for companies:

  • The first is the number of social contacts we have in a day.
  • The second is the diversity of ideas to which we are exposed.

If we don’t have social contact at work, we fail to tap into our true nature.

If we only surround ourselves with people who think like us we risk becoming an echo chamber – reaffirming our own bias and often failing to identify risk or opportunity.

The same is true in education

Professor Sugata Mitra ran an experiment in the slums of India placing computers into walls, like ATMs.

Children without any previous knowledge of computers were able, in a day, to learn how to access the Internet, research information and solve challenges.

Mitra learned two things. Firstly, sometimes having a number of children gathered around the same screen aids learning. Second, self-learning is often preferable to formal teaching.

What does this mean for business?

It means we are ignoring half of ourselves – we must embrace our social as well as our individual nature.

For example, we need to get smarter at understanding and differentiating between three types of our social selves:

  • social regard: and our need to be acknowledged by others for our work
  • social contact: and our need to have personal contact with others
  • social exploration: and our need to meet new people, explore new places and explore new ideas

Failing to act on our social natures at work is accepting under-performance, lower levels of productivity, unnecessary risk, poor motivation and limited innovation.

Social by accident needs to be replaced by “social by design”.

It’s time for a social revolution.


John Drummond

Corporate Culture Group


For more information on social physics check out:

For a recent radio broadcast on technology in education featuring Sugata Mitra, tune in here:

Prof. Mitra’s personal website is available here: