Jean-Michel Cornu : Cooperation in 28 keywords

6. Commitment and withdrawal

JM Cornu - La Coopération en 28 mots-clés - 6. Implication et désimplication

Fourth counterintuitive aspect that we must consider, after seeing: the post factum rather than a priori choice, the sufficient size, and the need to have all interests focusing in one direction rather than waiting for people to be altruistic.
These are aspects of involvement. Do you know the difference between “mobilization” and “involvement”? Asked roughly, the answer is not obvious, so I am going to help you a little. Do you know the difference between “to mobilize” and “to get involved”. I will help you a little more : there is a transitive and an intransitive verb. To mobilize, you don't mobilize yourself, you mobilize others. And to involve... A small example to get my point : let's take a steak on horseback. It's a dish where you have a hamburger and a fried egg on top. In this dish, for the steak and the egg on top, the hen gets mobilized, it is mobilized. Presto, it lays its egg, it goes and the day is over. Concerning the cow, it does get wholly involved ! Imagine that you mobilize people. Great ! Super ! They get mobilized and then you turn your back… Disaster ! The world has changed. Therefore, they do exactly what you asked them to do and it doesn't work. They will have to do something absolutely incredible, they will have to understand the meaning of what you proposed so that, at one point, they can manage to do something corresponding to the environment such as it is today. Which means that they will have to get involved, put a piece of themselves, take the risk to get caught if ever they have not done the job or if they failed... This means that involvement is compulsory. To understand this involvement, which will be needed in a moving world, a world moving all the time. It's a world with human beings, it moves all the time, people change and for the better, because they are alive. It's an innovating world also, such as the one we have today, therefore it's a moving world where predictions are impossible.
To get involved, it takes several things. First thing is motivation. What are the motivations necessary to get involved ? To do something ? What will encourage you to get involved in a group ? There are several things, let's see some examples now : therefore, you need for example to learn new things, but also the feeling of a well done job (it still exists…). But also pleasure, very important. Fun. We don't do things just because we get paid for it. Being paid allows to mobilize people but it does not enable people to get involved. On the contrary, we are going to get involved because we are going to enjoy it, we are going to have the feeling of belonging to a group. We are going to get involved also because we get gratitude... Prestige or esteem, as we saw formerly. We are going to get involved because it can be somehow useful for the group. But it's not enough because if ever you get involved, you will be motivated but you will also have restraints. There might be someone, whom you thought was deeply involved, and at a certain point you wonder about him because he doesn't participate. Why ? Because he has family problems or health problems or something else. Well, when safety problems have not been solved, obviously there are restraints. But the lack of confidence in others is also a restraint, which means, in the end, that I am not going to get much involved. I will share a secret wit you : if you want me to participate to your group, give me the opportunity, not only to be inactive - otherwise I will not participate not being sure whether or not I can be active - but also to quit. If I don't have the means, for example in an online group, to unsubscribe easily from your list, I won't join a group that I can't quit. Beside, the definition for a group that you can join but can't quit is a sect, not a group anymore. In this case, restraints will appear too. Then you realize that these restraints and these involvements are really personal. They are not necessarily predictable so you can not tell which person will get involved and which will not. You can say : “Finally, the more fun, pleasure, systems of recognition I will implement in the group, the more people will get involved, and the less I will do it, the less people will get involved”. That's all you'll be able to say. But with this, you won't know who. Let's play a game, taking the example of motivation, for example, recognition, pleasure, feeling of belonging and let's try to minimize restraints, for example recognition. What would be a group whose goal would be to build up a feeling of belonging to something and with a true system of confidence ? It has a name which is a “community” and a community is a system, a mean also when peculiar. A community is, even if your group is meant to do a special thing, a long term vision in which you are going to live with a certain number of people that you know in this group - some will be active, some won't, etc. - but in which you will bear a community name and you will recognize yourself as a person taking part in Wikipedia for example, or whatever you like. And then, this allows us to do plenty of things, with a little damper though : the word “community” was used by many salesmen, particularly in IT, with a speech such as : “a community is made of all the people who buy my items and then, they don't have to communicate with each other, because otherwise they will say things about me, etc.”. Obviously that is not the meaning of community. A community means precisely having people communicating with each other. So, if you just invite people to gather their questions and transfer them to you, and in return if the questions are good you propose a summary. You will never have a community. If you allow them to communicate with each other, then you build up confidence, you create a feeling of belonging. So we are nearly there, but one small thing is missing, because in fact, we realize that people get involved but that they swing either to involvement or to withdrawal. Moreover, when you observe things with another mammal, let's say a dog, you get near to it and at a certain point, the dog will be caught in a corner of the room and be scared. It has two possibilities : attack or flee. What do we see ? We can see it shaking. Shaking and hesitating between the two solutions. At a given point, it will attack or flee. But it will do it completely. Similarly, you will see that people in your group will get involved or not. They will have a kind of threshold and they will be a little above the threshold to get involved or not. And at a given time, they are going to start getting involved more and more (even if they can withdraw) or not get involved at all.
Clearly, if the people's motivation can be increased to help them in their involvement, if we can minimize the restraints, we can also lower the threshold of acting out which enables, at this point, to get involved more easily. And here there are two rules, a first one called KISS “Keep it Simple Stupid”. And it has to be so : if I have to read a 200 pages survey before I can join the group and know what I can do in this group, it's not worth. On the contrary, if I participate to a first meeting, where I don't understand a single thing but when at the end, I start already to get involved a tiny bit, tidying up chairs and discussing with everyone, there are more opportunities for me to get involved. Second aspect, major to lower the threshold : trying to get reactivity. Imagine that someone from the group has never talked, he belongs to your observers or your inactive people, and at some point he says : “Ah, but maybe what you are saying makes me think of such thing... It would be interesting that ...” and it takes you three weeks to answer. Of course, the mayonnaise stops thickening and it's over. So that means that, on the contrary, a quick reaction is needed : “Ah, but it's very interesting.... Indeed it can be connected with such other thing. It would be very interesting...” And there you will see that person get involved more easily.
Indeed if we can get involved...
So you have seen that some facets had dark sides, and the dark side of involvement is withdrawal. With a very specific item, that Fran├žois de Closets called the WTS (EPM in French) syndrome for the ORTF (which was the first French radio and television network). It was a fantasy TV, where people would sleep on the set, where they would invent loads of systems. With Channel 4, the English TV channel, they invented modern TV, with people who got very involved in the system. And one day they were told : “It's great but we would like to know how you get involved and why, and how you could do better, so you are going to note the time spent working and when you sleep on the set”. Well nearly all that, and I hardly exaggerate... And people started to say : “WTS”, which means : “What the Shit” and when you hear that, it's very important, it's a signal that people start to withdraw. And the WTS syndrom, “What The Shit”, is a very contagious illness. It means : “Watch out, there is a problem in your group !” You're gonna have to see, effectively, why people stop getting involved. And not only that but why they withdraw. Second sentence that you must keep an eye on very closely : “It's not my problem”. Of course, everyone has things to do, but in a cooperative group, one can help another even if he has responsibilities and does tons of other things. So, someone saying : “It's not my problem” is someone who is meaning : “Well, listen to me, I do what I have been asked to do and I don't care about the rest”. In a system where people are mobilized, it works. In a system where people are involved it doesn't.
That means that we have seen how we could get involved : more motivation, the minimum restraints, the lowering of the threshold for acting out and we see effectively that the two key-steps which lead to withdrawal are when you hear “WTS” and “It's not my problem”.
So here are these aspects, on a very specific facet. The fourth very counterintuitive and major aspect of cooperation is involvement and withdrawal.