There’s Strength in Numbers, Or Is There?

Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon have come out with a new book, and a Web site of the same name, called I Hate People.

What it reveals–and what took me almost my entire professional career to figure out–is that you can’t trust anyone at work. They’ll all stab you in the back or throw you under the bus in an instant–if it somehow helps them.

Now, back to my headline. I could examine the saying, "There’s strength in numbers," from a perspective of where it came from and what it means, but I’d rather cue it into the book, I Hate People.

The authors reveal that forty or so years ago, Fortune magazine did a survey of qualities employers most sought in employees. Teamwork ranked tenth. In a similar survey done by the magazine in 2005, teamwork had jumped to number one.

How depressing, considering that the only people who love teams are those who command their appearance and those blowhards who worm their way into taking charge of them to feed their egos.

Hershon and Littman cite an experiment by a French engineer named Maximilien Ringelmann, who measured people’s efforts pulling on a rope attached to a strain gauge. Pulling in groups, people exerted themselves less; pulling alone, they gave it their all.

This has come to be known as "social loafing," or simply the "Ringelmann Effect."

Either way, it accounts for the futility of throwing teams at a problem. Better to give a million monkeys one typewriter each and see how long it takes them to recreate the Great Books of the Western World.

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