The Power of the Powerball

As the Powerball lottery jackpot climbs to an estimated $1.3 billion dollars and lottery frenzy takes over small talk (would you take the lump sum or amortized payout? What would you buy first? Who would you tell?), I can’t help but think about the collective power we have when we come together.

The basic premise of the lottery is simple – many people pay a small amount, the money pools together, and someone (or someones, as can be the case), gets lucky and wins a pile of cash. And millions of people do this, despite the fact that you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning or getting bit by a shark than willing the big prize, USA Today reports. But it’s that chance – however small it might be – that keeps people coming back and dreaming big.

That’s a whole lot of dreaming and and a whole lot of hope in the face of overwhelming odds, not to mention a whole whackton of cash (I’m pretty sure whackton in the technical definition when we’re talking about a jackpot this large). And that’s what got me thinking – is it possible to harness this power of collective hope towards something else other than our own personal gain? Maybe it’s cynical, but I don’t know that we can. I want to believe it’s possible, but I just don’t know. We complain about the taxes we pay, and if we don’t complain about the amount or the concept, we complain about the things “our” money is spent on. And given the choice, I don’t know how many of us would willingly turn our money over, even for the things we know we use everyday like roads and sidewalks, or the things we hope we don’t have to use, but are glad exist, like police and fire departments.

So if that’s the case, what’s the lesson in all this? We’re all greedy, sad souls who only care about ourselves? Well, I’m not that cynical. I think charities and service-based nonprofits are wonderful examples of people coming together to have an impact (and can restore my faith in humanity). My $50 alone can’t make a dent in helping those living with HIV and AIDS, but when I donate my money to organizations committed to providing food, services and education to those affected by HIV and AIDS, the impact of all our $50 donations can be awesome. And that has a positive impact on my community and I believe a community of healthy and happy people certainly benefits me.

And there are practical lessons for us as we look at our organizations. Sure, research tells us that involving people in the process creates better buy-in and success, and that’s true at every step of the way, from conceptualization to execution to post-evaluation. But the study of human nature that is the Powerball tells us that if people have even the slightest hope that their lives can be made better, they’re willing to part with some of their cash, and I think the same argument can be made for their time. I’m seeing that right now in a group I’m working with. They’re volunteering their time at work, above and beyond their normal day jobs, to improve the quality of life at work. And they’re accomplishing great things that no one person could do, even if it was their full-time job. It’s the power of the collective.

So with that, the idealist in me encourages you to spend that $20 on Powerball tickets and dream the hell out of the possibilities. But then, find another way to pool an additional $20 to help your community and be guaranteed a return on your investment (way better than being bitten by a shark!). And if you’re feeling especially motivated, take a look around you and find a place where harnessing the power of those around you can have an impact. You may not raise $1.3 billion, but the good news is that there’s a whole that can be accomplished on the way there.

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