In my job, overconfidence doesn’t work out (just another of the many reasons I am not so good at racing). So this may be the first time I have had this experience, one where I look around and just know what is going to happen. It’s very similar to chemistry: molecules behave with absolute predictability. And people are exactly the same.
So I end up trying to explain it – often – and lately I have spent more time pondering a new question: why do I seem to be the only one that gets it? That part does make me uncomfortable, because there are a lot of really smart people out there, many of whom have had to listen to me prattle on, so this is like saying I am smarter than them. And that shoots past overconfidence into arrogance.
There are two possibilities: I am wrong, and everyone else knows it; or it’s just really hard to get your hear around it, even for smart people.
Or, maybe we have all been trained to believe it’s just not possible. That’s actually what I think is going on.
If I tell you I am going to give you something you want and need for no cost with strings attached, you will not believe me. Somewhere, there is a catch. People have been inventing clever ways to use that as bait for tens of thousands of years. Whether these is advertising involved, it’s a trial period, you are being used as a guinea pig, or you will soon be addicted, there is always a catch. We have all been jaded enough that we will never be fooled. People just don’t do things if there is not something in it for them. It may be a paycheck, a tax write-off, publicity, or just a chance to feel good, but true altruism is rare, and it is always on a limited scale, with some underlying benefit.
That part of human nature hasn’t changed, and I am not ignoring it. On the contrary, unwillingness to accept the realities of how people are going to behave has been the failing of many benevolent causes. Resources always have limits, and someone has to pay the cost.
But, two things have changed: one is embedded in the word need. That’s absolutely critical: I am going to give you something you want and need, at no cost, and with no strings attached. The need part is how I am going to benefit. Because you are absolutely right: I am not doing this for nothing, I am doing this for tremendous personal benefit. Because if this city expands its economy and reduces its poverty rate, I am going to benefit proportionally. Exponentially, actually, because everything will get better as things get better. And I have kids that will benefit, too. So don’t be fooled into thinking I don’t see this all as an investment I will capitalize on, because I will. Right now I am paying – we are all paying – for all of the bad things that happen to people who don’t get what they need. I would like to stop doing that. So instead, I am going to show you how we can give people what they want and need, at no cost, and with no strings attached.
And the second thing that has changed is the tools we have at our disposal. It turns out that giving people what they want and need at no cost and with no strings attached is actually quite easy.
But wait! You can’t just give people stuff, that never solves problems. It just makes them dependent on the source, and someone has to pay! This is all just another scam! I knew it!
Ah, but I am not talking about widgets or money or even shelter or food or water. With all of these things, that is very true. But I am talking about connections. Connections are like a magic commodity: there is no limit, they are extremely fulfilling and powerful, they are a critical functional, emotional, and physiologic need. And they are free. They don’t have to be manufactured, and both sides of the equation benefit. The same rules don’t apply here, and that is why it’s so hard to accept. This entire project goes against everything we have all learned and experienced throughout our entire collective lives. But it is truly different.
If you have ever seen some crazy chemistry experiment where you mix things together just so (or drop a couple of mentos into a coke bottle) and something wild happens, then you know it’s not magic. The rules of the universe are being followed with exacting precision, you just weren’t aware of some of those rules, so you didn’t predict the result. The rules are never bent or broken.
Everyone wants to be connected. Everyone needs connections. We can now provide safe, effective, connections without cost, and without strings attached. People want them, so they will take them. People need them, so we need to provide them. This doesn’t break any rules or make any false assumptions or expect things to happen in ways that just won’t happen. On the contrary: if I truly give people something they want and need for no cost and with no strings attached, the one thing I can be absolutely sure of: they are going to take it. And no amount of money or effort spent by someone else to try to bait them into something that looks similar but has hidden costs or strings will prevent that.
Overconfidence means you believe something will happen when there is still a good chance it will not. Here, it’s no longer a matter of can it be done, it is that it can’t be stopped.