confused group

Yesterday, my co-worker and I decided we should Slack a message to our other co-worker and ask him to come to the conference room to meet with us. We both started typing, but I figured that she would message him first, so I deleted my unsent message. 10 minutes later, we realized that he wasn’t there yet. Apparently, she’d stopped typing when she saw me typing. Neither of us had actually completed the message because we assumed the other would, and we were too lazy to risk both putting in the effort. Thus, 10 minutes were wasted because of the classic issue of collective action.

The “collective action” problem is the widely studied phenomenon in which people could collectively take an action to benefit everyone, but because the individual benefit is not apparent, nobody completes the action. This is most prominent in politics—for example, one individual may not feel compelled to vote because she doesn’t feel that her vote really “counts,” but when millions of individuals don’t vote, they influence the outcome of the election.

You see this everywhere. It’s why it seems like getting people together feels like herding cats. It’s why everyone agrees that they want to see a movie, but because nobody wants to choose a movie, nobody goes. And, it’s why Caroline and I both wanted to Slack our co-worker, but neither did. It seems, frankly, idiotic from the outside—why wouldn’t anyone take an action that can benefit everyone?—but is challenging to overcome.

Now, let’s think about ideas. You may be familiar with the concept of pluralistic ignorance. People tend to believe that they think differently than everyone else. In class or meetings, when you are confused, but don’t raise your hand out of fear that you are the only one confused, you are probably succumbing to pluralistic ignorance.

Chances are, others are confused, but also think that they are the only ones. Conversely, you may think that everyone knows something that you know, and therefore cease to express yourself. This, I argue, is just as inefficient.

If you have an idea in your family, your friend group, or at work, there is a chance that you are an innovator who has thought of something novel. There is also a chance that you are coming to the same conclusions as everyone else. In both scenarios, if you fail to express yourself, you may be missing out on developing a successful or interesting idea.

It all comes down to communication and openness. That isn’t to say that everyone should express every idea with everyone—not all ideas are ground-breaking, and not all people care. But, from little things like messaging a co-worker or going to a new restaurant, to big things like moving to a better neighborhood or changing your work culture, if you don’t say something, nothing gets done. Take a chance on your ideas, and open up more to the people around you—it makes life more interesting.

This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.