Gandhi 3.0: Power of Many -- and One

TEDxUCSD, May 2014


Today, I want to talk about this idea of Gandhi 3.0. (You can tell I'm from the Silicon Valley-- we like to put version numbers after everything, and we don't spare Gandhi either.)

It's this idea of combining modern-day tools of organizing with the ancient values that Gandhi embodied. But first I want to start with the story of a smile card.

This actually started at the dining table of my cousins house in Chicago. We were having a chat, and the conversation veered towards pranks. College pranks. Why do these kids do these amazing, elaborate college pranks? We started talking about the different motivations. Well it's fun, definitely fun. It's also challenging. It's also creative. It's also collaborative. And we went down this whole list. I asked my cousin, "Yes, but it's also destructive. Can we flip it? Can we make it constructive? Can we take the same incentives and do something concrete-- just to make someone's day."

My cousin got a little excited.

He said, "Oh like kindness pranks?! Just do something for somebody and then just disappear?"

So I was like, "Yeah."

He said, "Oh, we could even have gangs in the basement that meet."

So we got really excited about it. So a whole bunch of people joined that very conversation, and out came this idea of a smile card.

The idea is that you go out and do something small for someone else. It's a small act of kindness. But it's anonymous. So they don't know who did this. They can't say "thank you". But you leave a smile card behind which tells them to keep the chain going, pay-it-forward; do something nice for someone else. Maybe you pay the toll for the car behind you. Maybe you mow your neighbor's lawn. Maybe you leave flowers at someone's doorstep. It doesn't matter what it is, but each act is a potential ripple that goes on and on, and the smile card becomes a reminder of it.

So lots of people got very excited about it. And we put up a little website where people could share stories and they could request these cards. Initially some people were kind of skeptical. They were like, "Ah, cute idea. Nice. It's not really going to change the world, but it's a nice thing to do."

But then, bit by bit, people started transforming their perspective of these small acts. I remember a woman who was doing her PhD at UC Berkeley. She was in that category of being skeptical about it. One day, she had to run an errand, so she gets in her car-- she's in a rush, so she kind of parks quickly, goes inside, gets what she needs from the store, comes back. Except that when she comes back, there's a little note for her on the windshield. The note is kind of cursing her out, saying, "People like you don't belong on the streets." And it's just going on and on and on.

She looked at it and wondered, "What's wrong?"

It turned out she had hastily parked in between two parking spots; there were no other parking spots. This person is livid, and he lets her have it. So, like any rational person, she looks at it and says, "Okay, my fault, I understand. This person doesn't have to be so mean. But what the heck, it's an anonymous note-- doesn't really matter." She threw it away. Except that she goes home a couple hours later, and she's still thinking about how violated she feels. She's feeling hurt. A few more hours later into the evening, she's still feeling those pangs of pain inside her heart. And then it occurs to her: this is exactly like a smile card, except the opposite. It leaves me feeling terrible. Whereas a smile card makes someone's day; where 12 hours later, they're still feeling good. All of sudden, it clicked.

We have a website, where people can order these cards and read these stories. It's a very simple website. This is a snapshot of all the different orders over a six month period in those early days. And this is just the US. It wasn't even the most popular country-- there were so many other countries it was going out to. So initially, we said, hey look, if anybody wants these smile cards, we didn't want to be commercial, we said we'd just send it out to them. And we would. Then, after awhile, hundreds of orders came it. And then it went to thousands. And we were just doing it as like a -- the front address of our envelope read, "1 Compassion Way, Mother Earth". Until the post office came to us and said, "Uh, excuse me, there is no 1 Compassion Way on Mother Earth".

We said, "Exactly the problem." :)

So we were just doing it this way, and then when thousands of these requests for smile cards came in, what could we do? We could get a warehouse, fundraise, get staff-- but, we said, "Let's try something different."

We put up a note on our website. It says, "Anybody up for shipping ten orders a week?"

Lots of people raised their hands. And they would cover the shipping costs. So quite literally, someone in Maine orders something, and someone in California could be shipping it to them. Someone in Washington reads a story, says "I want cards," someone in Mississippi could be shipping it to them. So like that, what we were doing was really just holding space. It became a platform for these many-to-many connection. For many people to read each other’s stories and be inspired. For many people to request cards and ship to each other. And it was just this cocoon of goodness.

This is what we call Gandhi 3.0. This idea of a many-to-many network. Gandhi 1.0 is, of course, Gandhi himself. [Laughter] One of him, many of us. It's a one-to-many model. We are all familiar with that. But when Gandhi passed away in India, there's another man who came on.

This is Vinoba Bhave. Vinoba said, "We need a deeper movement, so let's have a one-to-one movement." And he did something very inspiring-- he decided to walk from village to village, and in every village, he would go up to the wealthy landowners and say, "Look, this guy is your brother. He's landless. Why don't you just give you land to him?" Sounds like a crazy idea, but people did it. So he walked tens of thousands of miles. Millions of acres of land were transferred in this way, purely on the basis of generosity. It's an unprecedented feat in human history. And he did this through one-to-one.

But what Gandhi and Vinoba foreshadowed was a third way of being, which is this 3.0 idea, which is something we see in nature all the time-- which is around a many-to-many network.

This is a quote from Vinoba himself. He says, "To progress, society doesn't need leaders anymore. This doesn't mean that we won't have great men amidst us. I think great men will come. And they'll be vital for the progress of humanity. But they will be so great that they will refuse to take up this position of leadership."

It's a very interesting idea. It sounds like, "Wow, why would somebody refuse to take up a position of leadership?"

It's because he was talking about this many-to-many kind of leadership. When a flock of geese are flying, the geese upfront are rotating with those in the back. There's no one static leader. You look at ants and how they create anthills. Their work is distributed across thousands of these little worker ants. You see this with butterflies. You see this with bees. You see this with trees. You see this with plant ecosystems. It's everywhere in nature.

But with human organizing, it's a little bit more complicated. So if you run an nonprofit organization and you're trying to deliver a value, the book says, "If you're a good nonprofit organization, [you'll need] about 20% overhead." Sounds fair. Except, the internet came along, and dropped that down from 20% to practically 0.

So that's when all kinds of things changed, and we were able to create many-to-many networks around human organizing.

There's a lot of math behind this, also. Oh wow, you guys seem like a math crowd. Great.

As you can see in the bottom, that's the one-to-many connection, the red line. This was known as Sarnoff's Law. Sarnoff, founder of RCA, he was broadcasting content over TV. So he said, "If I have an audience of 100, I have 100 connections." Makes a lot of sense. Then he moves to the one-to-one connections. This was in the time of telephones and fax machines, where you could have people talking to each other, one-to-one. So that was Metcalf's Law. Metcalf says, "If you have a network of 100, the number of connections is 4,950."

And then came the green line. And the green line was during the time of the internet, where you could not only just connect one-to-one, but you could create mini-groups. And so the number of unique connections in that kind of network was known as Reed's Law. And that was just ginormous. That was greater than 1 with 31 zeros after it.

Of course, human beings don't have more capacity than even I think the Dunbar number says 150 connections is the maximum capacity that human beings have for number of relations that we can handle. But nonetheless, the value of a network can be incredibly high in a group-forming network.

More visually, it looks like this. This is the hub-and-spoke model of Gandhi 1.0. This is the 2.0 model, of a one-to-one kind of a network. And this is what a practical, 3.0 many-to-many network looks like. You just have so many clusters, and clearly, 3.0 is so much stronger.

But why Gandhi? It's kind of a curious question. This could just be "Organizing 3.0". Why "Gandhi 3.0"? To explore that question, I want to look at three spheres of influence that Gandhi talked about. That Gandhi's work embodied. The first, is awareness. Gandhi raised awareness about a lot of issues. This is really primarily dealing with the head-- it's information. If I'm a smoker, and you show me what happens-- an x-ray of my lungs-- and say, "This is what happens to your lungs when you smoke," that's helpful. Really helpful. But it's not enough to get me to stop smoking.

So you have impact, which is the second big circle. And the impact says, "Look, your body's addicted to nicotine, here's a little patch. It'll help you wean off of your smoking habit." And I stop smoking. Where awareness is about the head, impact is about the hand. It's concrete. It's tangible. It's measurable.

But the greatest of Gandhi and other leaders like him was that it didn't just stop there. He went to the third circle, which was transformation. Transformation says, "It's not just enough that you stop smoking, because then from smoking, you might go to alcohol, or you might go to chocolate." [Laughter] I hear you. But how do you get rid of the pattern of addiction all together? That's a much harder problem.

That requires some inner transformation. And for Gandhi, this inner transformation was of paramount importance.

Feb 4th, 1922. India's Independence Movement. There was a lot of momentum. There was a small town named Chauri Chaura. There was a peaceful protest going on. Encounter the police. The police tried to stop them. Things got a little out of hand. People got angry. Police started firing shots. And the mob just decided to attack the police. Not only did they attack the police, they chased them back to the police station. They burned the police station down. 22 people died.

Gandhi looked at this. And, at what seemed like the peak of the Independence Movement-- which he really cared for-- he looked at this and said, "Our country's not ready for independence. If we're going to do that, not ready." He halted his whole movement across the country. Instead of saying, "Look, I just want independence," he says, "I don't just want independence. I want transformation in the hearts of the people on the other side, on this side, on every side, including me." That's what Gandhi was about. He cared for that inner transformation. It took 25 years after that episode to finally get independence in 1947. But Gandhi cared about this.

And it wasn't just Gandhi. So many leaders. Mother Teresa. Aung San Suu Kyi. Cesar Chavez. Martin Luther King Jr. Dalai Lama. The list can go on. What they did, is they worked at the intersection of awareness, impact, and transformation. They worked at the sweet spot in between. But what they couldn't do-- during their time, what they had to do-- was work in a 1.0 model: a hub and spoke model. Them at the center, and so many people at the edges. Some of them had an option of a one-to-one model. But now, in today's time, what we have the opportunity to do is create a 3.0 model. And this is incredibly powerful.

But of course, it requires a lot of mental shifts. Really, I think of it as bridging the internet with the inner-net. Thank you Kung Fu Panda. [Laughter]

It requires a lot of different shifts. And the biggest one-- it starts with this. It's no longer about a superman coming and saving the day. It really starts to look a lot more like [the tv show] Heroes-- where you have many of us, tapping into the gifts that we have, and working together to create new capacity to tackle the problems of our time.

So some of the shifts are important to understand, because they're counterintuitive in so many ways. Leadership now starts to look like "laddership". Plan-and-execute, which they are really good at teaching in business schools now turns into "search-and-amplify". Because it's no longer about the manufacturing metaphor, it's more about the gardening metaphor when you're working with networks. Power shifts from the center to the edges. Big institutions, hierarchical institutions, give way to distributed, decentralized units of operations. And the start and stop campaigns that happen all the time now turn into ongoing movements without an exit strategy.

But the "Gandhi" part of this "Gandhi 3.0" raises one very big question, which is this: "What about the quality of the connections?" It's not just about the quantity of the connections, and the breadth of those connections, but what about the depth? What about the quality of the connections? That's what Gandhi cared about, and other leaders like him talked about.

This is Henry David Thoreau. He puts it really comically in 1854. He says, "Look, we're in a great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate." [Laughter] So we have all these connections, but how deep is the bond? What is the substance that is being communicated over those connections? That makes a huge difference.

We've done this. We've used this for-profit. We've seen it work.

We've used this for protest. Some dramatic change has occurred in recent times, in the last five years, that we've seen, because of the power of this kind of organizing.

But we haven't seen enough for love. And the reason why love is so significant is because of the quality of the ties. When you go from profit to protest to love, you go from loose ties to deep ties to very rich noble ties. And those noble ties end up making a very significant difference. Because with those noble ties, you end up connecting the branch tips to the roots.

This is a photo of a woman post-Hurricane Katrina walking down the street that she grew up in. Hurricane Katrina destroyed, pummeled, everything along this street. And so many other streets. But it couldn't destroy one thing. Oak trees. Oak trees like this survived. And the reason why they survived is because they had deep roots. And it wasn't just that they had deep roots-- their deep roots were connected to the deep roots of other oak trees, and sometimes spanning over 100 miles. And so whenever one oak tree is in trouble, the other oak tree starts giving in, and if that other oak tree needs a little bit more backup, a third oak tree comes in, and there's a whole network of oak trees. And together they create an incredibly resilient ecosystem.

This is really our potential. As we start going deeper. We've all experienced this in small ways. Even if we're unconscious, we've experienced it. I remember I was in college, one time I got out of lab at like 3AM. (This is like, "Mom, you didn't hear this story.") So I get out of lab, and I said, "You know, I just want to go running." So I decide to go for a run. On my way back, I'm warming down, and I'm headed to my apartment. All of a sudden I find myself in a dark alley. No one's in the dark alley, but I see a menacing looking man out front. It looks like he's got a concealed weapon. And I'm thinking, "Okay, I've never been mugged in my life. It's going to happen now." [Laughter.] I freak out. It's like when you're in high school and your teacher asks you the question, you're like avoiding eye contact. That's kind of what happened to me. I'm avoiding eye contact. I'm like, "Man, if I run, there's no way I'm not going to get caught." I don't know what to do, but I'm still inching forward, inching forward.

And then I had this one radical thought: "What if this guy is my brother? What am I afraid of? What am I keeping with me?" If he was my brother, before he could even ask, I would just give it to him. "Here brother, this is for you." And that thought was so radical, I felt huge. I felt deep in that very moment. And instead of looking down and looking way and being fearful, I looked straight at him. And as I passed him, I smiled. And he looks back at me, eye to eye, and he smiles back.

And maybe nothing was going to happen that day. I don't know. But what I do know is how I felt. I know I tapped into the depth of my connection. And as I tapped into my roots, I knew somewhere that my roots were connected to his roots.

So, today, the possibility that I want to leave you with is this idea of Gandhi 3.0 is brought to us by a kind of information technology. It's a kind of IT that gives us the possibility of the breadth of our connections. But there's a different kind of IT, which is Inner Transformation, which allows us to go to the depth of these connections. And when we do this, we have not only the power of many, we also have the power of one. And together, we can do the work of love. Thank you so much.

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