Small, diverse learning cohorts are the key to authentic friendships and profound shifts in understanding, beliefs and behaviors.
Results from the 2020 ion study on small diverse group conversations, n=103.
The Old Way Creates Isolation and Suffering
The Old Way is a vicious cycle driving the U.S. towards collapse:
These are just the averages. We know life is worse for our people who aren't straight white males, e.g., the average African American household has one penny of wealth for every dollar a white household has (Northwestern, 2020).
The New Way Empowers Unity and Prosperity
The New Way heals and connects us, activating a virtuous cycle:
(A) Implement best practices in our political economy to ensure everyone is safe, healthy and educated, has a steady and fulfilling job making a living wage, feels connected to their community, and lives in harmony with the natural world, and
(B) Heal the soul of the nation by creating safe and engaging conversations among people from different backgrounds, in order to develop empathy and trust, and find common cause, and enlist leaders, media and technology platforms that elicit our better angels and inspire us towards solidarity.
Without cultural healing and solidarity, we lack the political will needed to enact the critical reforms needed for all of us to flourish. A is not possible without B.
The Unity Lab 4-1-5 method (4 diverse people, 1-hour a week, 5 sessions) leverages the last 30 years of breakthroughs in neuroscience, psychology and social learning to deliver greater empathy, trust, learning and connection.
So what? Why does this method matter?
The Culture Epidemic
Our culture is one of discord, mistrust and loneliness. Trust is critical to a functioning democracy(1), our overall health(2), and the innovation(3) and productivity(4) of our economy. Unfortunately, only 17% of people trust the United States government(5) and just 41% trust the news media(6).
We're not too happy about each other either, as 9% of Republicans and 14% of Democrats have a favorable view of the other party(7). This is a dynamic that extends beyond scowls and mistrust, and towards intent to harm, as 13% of conservatives and 18% of liberals justify violence if their party loses the general election(8).
As a result, we're isolating ourselves from those who are different from us, and sometimes altogether. As of December 2019 (pre-covid) 61% of us were lonely, up from 46% in 2018(9). Loneliness is a health risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day(10).
Loneliness contributes to depression and suicide. It is no wonder that deaths of despair (suicide, alcohol, drugs) have skyrocketed to an all-time high(11).
We need each other now more than ever. We need empathy and trust in our communities and organizations. Rebuilding our culture a critical piece of the solution (along with steady jobs, safety, security, functioning democracy, FCC Fairness Doctrine, et al).
Unity Lab offers a scalable method to rebuild trust at the organization, community and national level through carefully crafted social learning experiences.
We learn better together.
Peer learning is how most learning happens. Research suggests that 80% of us learn as much or more from our peers than authority figures(12) and we learn 63% more from conversations in small, diverse learning cohorts, than we do from consuming information alone(13).
The same holds in an adult learning or transformational context. Research suggests that group approaches are significantly more impactful than those that focus solely on individuals, e.g., psychotherapy or coaching(14).
The reason for this is that groups enable behavior change through social support(15), the formation of group norms(16), group identity(17), and social identities(18), and through group feedback and being challenged(19).
When small groups are designed in such a manner that we feel safe and can share uncomfortable feelings, we experience fewer feelings of isolation, alienation, blame, and stigma due to past mistakes(20).
As people are engaged in supporting each other, sharing vulnerably, and skillfully challenging each other over time, their beliefs, behaviors, underlying intuitions and moral reasoning also change(21).
Given the power that groups have to shift behavior (for better or worse), we must bring a great deal of care and attention to how we form and maintain groups. The size, composition, duration of groups, as well as what people learn together are critical elements of a successful social learning experience.
For every person added to a group, there is a loss of intimacy and a gain in perspective(22), and larger groups (> 6 people) face logistical difficulties in selecting a time to meet. As such, it is likely that the optimal "Goldilocks condition" for a group's size is 3-6 people.
[If you remember the "before times" / pre-sequester, you may have experienced that gatherings of 4-6 people often resulted in deeper connections than larger gatherings.]
Given the limited size of a group (<6), when a person is placed in a group, it is important that the perspective they bring is diverse and unique. Research suggests that optimizing groups for diversity, especially in relation to gender(23) and ethnicity(24), yields better learning and behavioral outcomes. Gordon Allport's 1954 "contact hypothesis", and several decades of subsequent research, reveals that the more contact people have with those who are different, the greater they understand them and feel connected to them(25).
Because people forget 90% of what they learn from a one-time training within 7 days(26), it is critical that learning is spaced out over time, so that it can be reinforced, and diverse relationships can develop. Research suggests that the optimal number of sessions for a social learning experience is 5 sessions, beginning with an introductory module, then 3 content-driven modules and a final wrap-up module(27).
Lastly, if the goal is to build empathy and trust among diverse groups, it is critical to incorporate self-reflection exercises into the group sessions, so that people discover more of who they are and have the opportunity to view the skills they learn as expressions of their purpose and values versus distinct from, or antithetical to, them.
When self-reflection is incorporated into a learning experience, the door opens for a whole host of prosocial beliefs and behaviors and an orientation towards community(28). Research suggests that when people are connected with their purpose they experience a 4x reduction in anxiety in diverse environments(29) and 4x increase in the desire to live in a diverse city(30).
Other purpose and values-driven outcomes:
While the aforementioned research is relatively new, building a diverse coalition around a shared purpose has been central to many of our greatest innovations and proudest moments as a nation.
From Farm Aid in the 1980's(37), to the Jigsaw method to racially integrate Texas schools in the 1970's(38), to the racial collaboration at NASA in the 1960's(39), to the "Robber's Cave" study on competition, tribalism and solidarity in the 1950's(40), and our nation's rapid WWII mobilization in the 1940's(41), we continually come back to the same conclusion: we are better, kinder and stronger together.
So long as we have a shared goal and effective communication, we transcend our perceived differences and achieve the unimaginable.
The Unity Lab 4-1-5 method (4 diverse people, 1-hour a week, 5 sessions) empowers you to develop leadership and communication skills, build empathy and trust with diverse people and activate your purpose, leadership and citizenship.
Unity Lab programs are delivered in a 5-module virtual video conferencing format (and live full-day programs when it is safe to do so).
Each of the 5 modules takes 1-hour and leverages 5 learning styles (text, video, reflection, guided discussion and action taking).
In the first 15 minutes, you'll read a short article, watch a short video and complete a written reflection question. In the next 45 minutes, you'll take turns sharing your perspective via a handful of conversation prompts.
What You'll Experience
After you join Unity Lab, here is what you'll experience. You will:
The Community Leadership Program (CLP), guides you to activate powerful communication skills and develop empathy and trust with your diverse peers.
Graduates of the CLP can then take other 5-module programs, such the United States Leadership Program (USLP). The programs are delivered in the same format, and guide you into a deeper exploration of your identity and your unique expression as a leader in your life, career and community.
Explore our programs in greater detail.
Unity Lab also delivers custom programs for organizations and communities to activate empathy, trust and inclusion, and transcend silos and perceived boundaries, e.g., ethnicity, politics, gender, sexuality, race. This process activates the community or organization's shared purpose and values and fosters deep bonds of empathy and trust. Contact us to learn more.