On collaboration and Prisoner’s Dilemmas and the Power of Many

Have you ever heard of Richard Butler? A man, who, according to Jim White in the Daily Telegraph, “hit the council where it hurts; he has kicked it in the red tape.” A delightful story that you can read here, without a paywall in sight.

The story’s simple. Council wants to build road through man’s garden. Man likes garden. Man protests, banner shows website address. Banner banned. “Illegal advertising”. So. Man introduces fractional ownership into said garden. Plots for £1 a pop. Buyers aplenty. Fractional owners dispersed globally. Council cannot build road until and unless all owners are served with compulsory purchase orders. Which will take time.

The power of many.
Different context. Willie Nelson. And band. Travelling through Louisiana. Issued misdemeanour citations. Rather than prison sentences. Because the band acted as a group. Story here.
The power of many.

Different context. Class 7A, Mr Patrick Vianna’s class, St Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta. Sometime in 1971. Rich boy brings 100 rupee note to class. To pay school fees. 100 rupee note goes missing. “Prefect of Discipline” Fr Camille Bouche called for. He shuts the doors. Tells all forty-odd students (average age 13). Form a line. Walk one-by-one to the open window. Reach into pocket. Come out with a closed fist. Place fist through open window. Below sight line. Retract hand. Walk on. And magically, 100 rupee note is found on grass outside. [A classic example of the pragmatic wisdom and sensitivity shown to all of us by Father Bouche, who passed away a few years ago. A giant of a man. I miss him.]

The power of many.

Different context. Apocryphal tale. Calcutta, maybe 1974. Bank A wants to try and get Bank B’s customers, aggressive marketing ploy. You can open an account for as little as one rupee. Bank B, next door, sees marketing campaign. Bank B worries. Until someone has a brainstorm. Go out and give every street dweller you see a banana, a cup of tea and a rupee. Ask them to go and open an account at Bank A. Horrendous queues in front of Bank A, as they stroll in to open accounts. Regular customers don’t get served, switch over time to Bank B. [Was this the world’s first DDOS attack? :-) ] Plan backfires gloriously.

The power of many.

People who want to work together can do amazing things. Nitin Nohria and Paul Lawrence, in Driven, spoke of the Drive to Acquire, the Drive to Defend, the Drive to Bond and the Drive to Learn. I do so like their model, so much more than that of Maslow fifty years earlier. People want to bond. People want to learn. People want to defend that which they hold as precious. And people want to acquire, yes, but not at the cost of the other drivers.

Sure, any form of collective action has its perils and its misuses. But hey, any form of anything has its perils and its misuses. So let’s celebrate the different ways people work together in different contexts.

6 thoughts on “On collaboration and Prisoner’s Dilemmas and the Power of Many”

  1. Interesting, the bank in Calcutta story. A more recent one, from Kerala — and this one is true.
    Mobile phone company A launches a scheme where you can talk at night for 29 paisa per minute ( 1/3 of one pence! ). Mobile company B buys zillions of SIM cards of Mobile company A, call each other up and jam network. Existing subscribers of Mobile company A can’t make calls at night, migrate to Mobile company B!
    End of great night talk plan.
    The power of many, indeed.

  2. But Maslow holds true – we have to eat and have shelter. Many have to fight for that every day of their lives.

    One area this doesn’t hold true is when you’re up against institutions with vested power interests. Recent example. An attempt by 80 practitioners to modify thinking around the way tax is reported to provide greater transparency in the interests of promoting greater social justice – defeated.

    Another area – workplace. Many, many barriers. Isolated instances only of enlightenment. Again, vested power interests able to snuff out the innovations that could emerge. The alternative? Informal networks but seen as subversive. Way too political.

    That’s not to say it won’t happen. Just there’s huge resistance.

  3. Fr. Camille Bouche (1922-2001) taught me history and english and influenced a generation of Xaverians. Who can forget the ear to ear smile and the cigarette being emptied on ones head ! He was man by example who taught me that decency and honesty pays. He also taught us to be stern and firm when neccessary. Whenever I show bravery I can feel him standing behind me urging me on…. I am certain this feeling would be confirmed by others.

    Words cannot express how much we think about you father and how I would like my son and grandsons to know your name. Please teach me to continue to be humble and honest just like the way you were.

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