- We each hold onto false beliefs about how society operates. These “collective illusions” stifle innovation and erode our ability to make progress together. Todd Rose discovered that one of the most important collective illusions has to do with the way we define a successful life.
- “We looked at the private opinions of the American public across 76 different attributes that could go into a successful life. Out of those 76, the vast majority of the American public believes that most people would rank ‘fame’ as number one. There’s just one problem: in private, it’s actually dead last.”
- When the same group was asked ‘What does a fulfilling life mean to you?,’ the results were even more mystifying. “Out of those 76 trade-off priorities in the thousands and thousands of people that we have studied, no two people were identical. Nobody can tell you what a successful life is; you have to discover that for yourself.”
- In the end, what Rose discovered was that if you want to help someone become successful, you must work to understand how they define success first.
Collective Illusions is brought to you by Stand Together: a community of changemakers tackling our biggest challenges.
TODD ROSE: You might think that collective illusions are something that are foisted on us. But the truth is we do this to ourselves. Collective illusions are situations where most people in a group go along with an idea that they don't agree with, simply because they incorrectly believe that most people and the group agree with it. Collective illusions destroy social trust. When we are under illusions about other people no longer sharing our values, when in fact they actually do, everything from basic cooperation to social innovation, can come to a standstill. To the extent that we distort our private values in the name of belonging, now we realize that doesn't just harm us. It harms the whole society.
One of the most important collective illusions that we've ever discovered has to do with the way that people define a successful life. We looked at the private opinions of the American public across 76 different attributes that could go into a successful life. Out of those 76, the vast majority of the American public believes that most people would rank fame as number one. There's just one problem. In private, it's actually dead last. It is 76th out of 76 possible attributes. We don't care about fame, but we believe that most everybody else cares about fame more than anything else.
Our public institutions are actually being built around a false view of what people want out of life. In our media, in our businesses, those people are also under the same exact delusions. We have commercials, we have movies and television shows, all telling us that a successful life is about being famous. Now the
dominant thing that kids talk about is wanting to be famous. One kid, I remember saying, "I want a million followers." He couldn't tell you for what. He just wanted a million followers. We know that most people, even in the younger generation do not privately value fame, but they are even more convinced than the older generations that most people do. They are internalizing the illusion as their own values, and that will become the dominant view in society in the future, if we don't do something about it.
Being aware that collective illusions exist is the starting point. And it comes down to us being honest about ourselves to each other. Populous asked what does a fulfilling life mean to you? What we found was really astonishing. Out of those 76 trade-off priorities, in the thousands and thousands of people that we have studied, no two people we're identical. Nobody can tell you what a successful life is. You have to discover that for yourself. It's about knowing who you are. If you want to understand whether the people you care about are pursuing a life that's not their own, ask them why they care about what they're doing. Why do you want to be famous? By having your ideas challenged, that gives you a better sense for who your true self is. If we recognize our true shared values, it fundamentally changes how we see one another. We now recognize that investing in each other and enabling you to pursue the life you want to live, is actually better for you and for me,
NARRATOR: This series is brought to you by Stand Together, a community of change makers tackling our biggest challenges. And to learn more about out how you can partner with stand together, visit standtogether.org.