Collaboration Expands Heroic Potential

The results are in! Thanks to all the readers who responded to my call for participation in the collaborative heroism survey. Three hundred participants from 25 countries completed the survey.  The results represent the first empirical validation of the theory of collaborative heroism. The top findings:

(1) Collaboration expands heroic potential

(2) Internet technology expands heroic potential

(3) Heroes are motivated to serve and protect

(4) Heroes are responsive to injustice

(5) Concern for others is a required ingredient

The research was presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Associationin Washington, DC followed by the Hero Round Table event in Flint, Michigan.

For readers unfamiliar collaborative heroism, here’s two recent examples worth celebrating: the Ice Bucket Challenge and the People’s Climate March.

Before this summer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) wasn’t widely known.  The Ice Bucket Challenge changed that—since July 29, 2014, over 17 million videos were shared and received over 10 billion views—that’s a lot of exposure for a little known disease. Exposure andeducation alone are excellent, but the Ice Bucket Challenge achieved even more: since launching the campaign, the ALS Association has received $115 million in donations. The Association will be using the funds to support programs and initiatives designed to expedite the search for treatments and a cure for ALS.  One of the initiatives may well result in the end of ALS. Let’s look at another example of collaborative heroism—the People’s Climate March.

The People Climate March was initiated when members of—a worldwide community (38 million members in 194 countries) set a “crazy goal” of launching “the largest mobilsation on climate change in history.”  Their audacity paid off. On September 21, people marched in over 2000 communities around the world, with more than 400,000 people flooding the streets in New York City alone. The People’s Climate March also included the online actions of 2 million individuals who signed an online petition, which Avaaz founder, Ricken Patel presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York City on the day of the March. 

The collaborative nature of this quest to respond to one of the central crisis of our time is eloquently stated by Sarah Wade of the World Wildlife Fund: “As we approached Times Square, we passed a huge screen displaying photos from sister marches in Kenya and Colombia—just two of the more than 2,800 solidarity events that took place in 166 other countries. Together, we represented what scientists have been trying to communicate for years: Climate change isn’t just something everyone should care about. It’s something everyone has to care about, because it’s threatening all of us.” [italics added]

What do the Ice Bucket Challenge and the People Climate March have in common? Or more specifically, why are they examples of the collaborative heroism?

1) Both initiatives are difficult challenges and/or crises that cannot be easily solved by a lone individual.

2) Both initiatives are pursuing noble goals—ending ALS and confronting climate change.1

3) Both initiatives blur the line dividing the online-offline space.  In the ALS challenge individuals took action offline via filming themselves in the act of participating in the ice bucket challenge, but via uploading and sharing the video the act crossed over to the online realm.   Likewise, in the People’s Climate March, 2 million petitioners acted in solidarity with the marchers—who themselves not only marched in the “real world,” but took online action during the March (sharing photos, videos, status updates, tweets, etc.).

As I write, the world is facing another difficult challenge: containing the rapid spread of Ebola and finding a cure for this deadly disease.  Medical personnel on the frontlines are the traditional heroes, but online/offline actions are already gearing up by ordinary people who seek to be part of the solution., for example, recently sent out a request for medical volunteers to its extensive network. The goal? Helping to "create a pool of potential volunteers for frontline humanitarian organization such as Partners In Health, International Medical Corps and Save the Children, who are urgently seeking skilled international volunteers."

Millions of individuals all over the world are responding to this and other crises facing our global village. They are overcoming the Bystander Effect—one by one, two by two, four by four, their individual actions are being multiplied by the power of today's digital technologies.  Together they are changing the tide of history. This is collaborative heroism in action. 


1. Heroic actions are defined as actions aimed at achieving noble goalsagreed upon by world consensus, such as achieving the tenets of theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights.