The Dangers of Our Collective Imagination

Money. Religion. Countries.

You choose.

If today we're the dominant species on earth, it's thanks to our imagination.

Someone comes up with a crazy idea (money = exchange of value) and convinces others to follow.

Then an idea evolves (coin > banknotes > credit cards > crypto?) and gets ingrained in our society.

Now 8 billion people can collaborate with each other whenever money is part of the equation.

Sounds simple, but the implications are powerful.

We've created a world that's hard to differentiate the real from the collective imagination.

And Apple Vision Pro coming along won't make it any easier.

But the part that really scares me is the idea of "collective illusions."

A collective illusion is a situation 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 in the group agree with it. The majority of people in a group believe the majority thinks something that they don't.

They lead individuals to make decisions that are contrary to their private values. And as a result, the entire group can end up doing something almost nobody wants.

The most damaging consequence is that an illusion in one generation tends to become the private opinion of the next generation.

Todd Rose

Before social media, this wasn't a big deal.

But now it's so much easier to create and sustain false narratives, that we live with more than 200 collective illusions.

One dangerous collective illusion we have is related to the meaning of success.

Success: The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status.

Oxford Dictionary

Psychologist Todd Rose conducted a study with thousands of Americans to find out what a successful life looks like to them.

Out of 76 attributes, the vast majority believe that most people would rank "fame" as number one. But in private, it's actually dead last. What they truly crave is personal fulfillment (which meant something different for every respondent.)

People chase fame because that's what they believe other people will recognize as success. We're a tribal species after all, and consciously or not, we're always seeking the acceptance of others.

As a result, now public institutions are being built around that. The media, the movies, and the commercials, they are all pushing the same narrative. And soon enough this will be the dominant view in society.

Creatives, like me and you, are especially affected by this collective illusion.

Bearing the pain of not getting immediate results from our work is getting harder and harder.

Not getting likes, shares, and comments makes you feel like a failure in the eyes of others. And we have a hard time dealing with it.

So to ease the pain, we feel the urge to change course. Most of the time, that means imitating what's creating “success” for others.

The consequence?

We create more of the same and end up playing a game that privately we don't care about.

Yes, we still feel the rush of dopamine from virality. But our internal voices keep telling us that something is off.

The question then is…

How do we get out of the matrix and stop being fooled by this collective illusion?

Well… first take some time to think deeper about what success really means to you. This has to be your north star. Write it up in a notebook and go back to it at least once a week to make sure you're not getting distracted.

Second, just be aware of the existence of collective illusions.

Whenever you compare yourself to other creators, or feel like a failure because your piece didn't do as well as it "deserved," go back to your notebook to remind yourself what success means to you.

Third, create a shield to stay away as much as possible from collective illusions.

Consuming Social Media mindlessly like most of us do will just amplify the power of these collective illusions. You'll see opportunity seekers "winning" everywhere, and you'll be tempted to become one.

Lastly, whenever you find other creatives like you, open yourself to them. Have conversations about the meaning of success. Question them when they start moving away from it. Help keep them focused, and they’ll start doing the same for you.

I know it’s never easy to be on the minority side…

But I can’t remember anyone who has ever created anything meaningful by aligning themselves with the mass.

So if you want to find your own path and create unique work, it’s time to start unplugging from the matrix.