Check out these two 3-minute videos of Seattle’s umbrella/singing-in-the-rain flash mob from this Saturday. The first video is a spontaneous performance in which group members decided to head over to a downtown shopping center and spread some holiday joy: Umbrella/Singing-in-the-rain mob. This video captures their performance in the Pioneer Square neighborhood.
As you share the experience, what can you say about these people? what can you say about yourself? As a geeky researcher, I try to participate, watch, and reflect on everything in and around these groups:
- the people/group that starts the mob
- the people/groups watching them
- the people/groups who join the mob
- the mob as a whole (shot from above)
- the behind-the-scenes people who can’t be seen in the video (organizers? film crew? choreographers? musicians?)
- myself—having and reacting to the experience
- The experience as a whole
Here’s what I’m experiencing. The world is asking more of us today–a lot more–because today more of us are aware that we are more than our individual selves than ever before. Being more connected is just the tip of the iceberg. Today we can look at others—remarkably and vastly different others who we’ll never meet in person—and we can see ourselves. We can recognize ourselves in amazing collectives, and as we do so, we remember what matters most to us. Today we can do this as these groups of learners without an expert to help us, without a teacher, without a guru or mentor or guide. You can see this in the comments posted after the video on the YouTube site. For example, somebody called “normalityrelief” says:
- That make us and others unhappy?
- In which we don’t feel inspired by or inspiring to others?
- In which people and groups must be “motivated” and “engaged” by experts and from the outside?
- In which change itself has to be “managed”?
As an individual, sometimes the world appears to be falling apart. That’s not the whole story, though. As these amazing collectives, we are emerging from the ashes reborn. We are happy people and groups. We are inspired by each other, we inspire others, and our groups inspire us as individuals. We aren’t just motivated and engaged (as so many organizational experts try to plan us to be), we are creative, collective, and contagious. We draw others to us. People who want to be with us and work with us find us. People who we ourselves need—so that we can become and do the next brave thing–they find us too. Together, we have it in us to push through our individual fear and watch chaos bring forth patterns so complex, so simple, and so beautiful that we get goose bumps, or stand open-mouthed in wonder, or join in, or shed tears of gratitude as we witness what’s possible. I often do all these things when with these groups.
Thanks to my partner Daniel for the amazing photographs. These photos are from a rehearsal in a neighborhood park a few hours before the flash mob events. I’ve been sick/slowly recovering the past two weeks, so I couldn’t participate in this mob like I usually do. My body just wasn’t up for hours of rehearsing and dancing. So at first I put this mob in the “other people’s self-organizing groups” category in my research spreadsheet instead of the “my own self-organizing groups” category. But at the outdoor park rehearsals, something interesting happened. People and groups would come up to me and say “What’s this? What’s happening?” And instead of keeping my mouth shut (like someone once taught me a good researcher should do), I became a one-woman salesperson and spokesperson for the flash mob.
Here in Seattle, some people show up at flash mob after flash mob. There are always a ton of new people at any given mob, but some of these people have been mobbing together for several years now. They even have a name for themselves: OGs, which means original gangsters. A few have been in 18+ mobs together. I’ve only been in a few, but already these people matter to me. They are like family to me. Except that I don’t know most of their names, their religions, their places of origin, their political beliefs, their professions, their stories—and most of them don’t know mine. But I care about them. I respect them. I dance with them, and apparently, when I’m not well enough to dance, by God, I’m going to watch them and tell interested others about them.
So as this umbrella mob rehearsed in the park, you could find me telling others—all those who asked—about them… “They’re rehearsing for a flash mob. Yes, anyone can join. No, you don’t need any special skills or ability to dance. You can be any age, any weight, anything you are. Well, I’m not sure why they look so amazing. I think it’s because individual flaws matter less when people are happy, smiling, and moving together in a group. Yep, it is a ton of fun–I’m hooked. Yes, you can be from other parts of the state—rehearsal videos are online. You just have to show up for the performance itself if that’s all you can do. We find out a few days ahead of time where we’ll be performing. No, I don’t know where they’ll be later today. Here are the names of three of the organizers. Here’s the name of the site where you can get on the mailing list. Yes, I agree, they are amazing. I look forward to seeing you at the next one too!”
Today, I notice that I failed once again to be that objective, disinterested individual researcher observing from the outside. And once again, that’s fine by me. I succeeded in becoming part of an amazing, collective self. This time, it wasn’t even a group that I was trying to be part of. I mostly showed up hoping to receive a bit of the group’s energy, since I had so little energy myself the past two weeks. In the moment, not only did I have more energy, I completely forgot that I’d been sick and feeling down. Instead, I talked almost non-stop about the group to interested passersby. Cue gratitude. Cue goose bumps.
Love this and the pictures — what a beautiful remembrance of this special day!
Thanks Sherri Blue Umbrella! I was disappointed to be too sick to rehearse and dance this one, and happily surprised that it was almost as much fun to be on the sidelines. 🙂
Yay! Im normalityrelief! Ive been officially quoted 😀
I have an old friend who loves doing these, & it’s been fun to see her in the videos. Good article too 🙂
Hey, thank you for sharing words of encouragement and appreciation with those who did the flash mob! I just checked out your blog. Small world. I grew up in South Dakota too. In my blog I’m working hard to let go of my stuffy researcher voice and to just be myself. Tough to do after so many years of writing in academia. Thanks for the words of encouragement.
Very cool! I really liked the spontaneity of Flash Mob, and how the crowd reacted.
Your observation: “Well, I’m not sure why they look so amazing. I think it’s because individual flaws matter less when people are happy, smiling, and moving together in a group.” I would add that it is within the very imperfections of the Flash Mob that draws in our attention, and engages us.
It seems to me that perfection by itself is not really that engaging. Take any second grader’s drawing and post it on the wall. We are all stunned! Why are second grade art projects so interesting and beautiful?
It seems to go downhill quickly from there, as art is taken off the school menu faster than pepperoni pizza, and replaced with English and math. It continues to slide later in life, as we force-fit people in rigid org-chart boxes where their roots can get bound. There is no light save for a sterile florescence, and employees are hidden within the confines of grey lifeless cubicles.
No wonder what you describe is so refreshing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thanks for sharing, Bob. I agree about the imperfections being a compelling part of the whole picture. I’m drawn to the visible energy, fun, and remarkable honesty in these groups, but their imperfections really make them powerful, because I can relate and think “Well, if these less-than-perfect folks can do it, so can I (and so can we)!” I hear this all the time from people around self-organizing groups–heard it from people around a self-organizing employee group and around a teacher group (in my doctoral dissertation work), long before I started studying flash mobs!
Happy holidays to you and your family!