Can An Extra Word For ‘WE’ Improve the Economy’?

By David Nordfors

Here is a discussion I had on FB just now:

  • Magnus Akerman Why don’t we simply drop this race crap. And see each other as equal individuals …

    • David Nordfors Yes! “Us and them” is the problem. “I and You” is the solution. smile emoticon
    • Magnus Akerman The world is a great We!
    • David Nordfors There are two ‘We’ 🙂
       – the interpersonal we – the ‘I and you’ that has no attributes, it’s just you and me. Then there is the impersonal ‘We’, the group identity, a persona (not a being) constructed by attributes that it’s members identify with. Like ‘We Swedes’. If the interpersonal ‘We’ outranks the impersonal ‘We’, then a multicultural society will work. If the impersonal We outranks the interpersonal We, that allows statements like ‘we Swedes don’t marry Danes’ to rule. Then multicultural society will NOT work.
    • Magnus Akerman In reality, of course, we’ll have to deal with both. But the normative We in any legislative or political kontext has to be the greater, including We. “Impersonal” We’s (as you have it) mustn’t be condoned by society!
    • David Nordfors Yes, of course (impersonal) We must have common rules even if it gets in Our (interpersonal) way sometimes. But (impersonal and interpersonal) We must not let our (impersonal) rules come between (interpersonal) us.

Writing that last comment, it struck me how much meaning and clarity was added to it by separating the ‘interpersonal we’ from the ‘impersonal we’. If I would have written it without separating the We’s, it would still have been easy to read, and still make sense, but it would not at all be as clear and any type of implementation would be trickier because the We’s would get mixed up all the time, for the simple reason that people don’t think about separating them as often as they might. People often mix up the impersonal we with the interpersonal we, leading to less successful strategies like “If we all put on these caps with corporate logos, then we will be more the same and we will all be buddies”. 

Here, I’ve rewritten what I discussed with Magnus, explaining it clearer:

How to make multicultural society work: it’s a question of ‘we’.

There are two ‘WE’. There is the INTERPERSONAL WE – the ‘I and you’. It has no other attributes. When i ask you “shall we go out for dinner?” I use the ‘interpersonal we’.

Then there is the IMPERSONAL WE, the group identity, like ‘We Swedes’. This is a persona constructed by attributes that characterize the group. If one of my attributes belongs to the ‘Swedish’ group identity, like being a Swedish citizen, then I can say ‘We Swedes’. That is an ‘impersonal we’, because the persona isn’t a person, it’s an idea. 

Now, If the ‘interpersonal We’ (I and you) outranks the ‘impersonal We’ (we swedes), then a multicultural society will work. For example: “(impersonal) We Swedes don’t usually marry Danes, but since I love you, (interpersonal) We will get married anyway.”

But If the ‘impersonal We’ (we Swedes) outranks the ‘interpersonal We’ (I and you), multicultural society will most likely NOT work. Because then, for example, ‘(impersonal) We Swedes don’t marry Danes, so you and I can’t get married even if (interpersonal) we love each other.”

So this is not only about racism. It’s just as much about inter-disciplinarily and multi-stakeholder interaction. It’s about raising the importance of interpersonal connections for each actor in the economy, raising it above the importance of the group identities – the silos.

It fits with the thoughts I’ve shared earlier in my TechCrunch piece about the ‘humane economy’ and the idea how to represent it mathematically,  using the thoughts of Martin Buber about “I and Thou”, in some type of ‘humane economics’

I wonder, what would happen if (impersonal) we started using different words for (impersonal) we and (interpersonal) we? Would it make horizontal interaction easier?

Anybody want to try?


Example of the Interpersonal We:

Example of the Impersonal/Collective We:

David Nordfors

David Nordfors is CEO and co-founder of IIIJ and the chair of the i4j Summit. He was previously co-founder and Executive Director of the Center for Innovation and Communication at Stanford University. He was one of the World Economic Forum Innovation 100 in 2009, and has served on WEF Global Agenda Councils. He serves on advisory boards of the Poynter Institute, Discern Investment Analytics and Black & Veatch. He is an adjunct professor at IDC Herzliya in Israel, a visiting professor at Tallinn University, the Tecnologico de Monterrey, and the Deutsche Welle Akademie. He was advisor to the Director General at VINNOVA, the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems, where he co-initiated the national Swedish Incubator System and set up a bi-national R&D fund between Sweden and Israel for mobile applications. He was Director of Research Funding of the Knowledge Foundation, KK-stiftelsen, administering an endowment of $300MUSD, building a funding framework underwriting over a hundred innovation initiatives between universities and industry. He initiated and headed the first hearing about the Internet to be held by the Swedish Parliament. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the Uppsala University and did his postdoc in Theoretical Chemistry in Heidelberg, Germany.