So yesterday I was sitting in a queue at some temporary traffic lights put up because one side of the road near my daughter’s school was closed while they resurfaced it. I knew the traffic lights were there so I’d set off early to give myself the extra time.
But as I sat in the queue the strangest thing happened.
When I reach the back of the queue the lights are on red. They turn to green and let maybe 10 cars through then they turn back to red.
The first car jumps the red light. You could see them speeding up to skip through it before it turns to red even though they’re clearly not going to make it. Fair’s, fair, ‘fessing up time, we’ve probably all done that at temporary traffic lights before now.
But then the next car went through the red light.
And the next one.
And the next one.
And the next one.
In fact about eight cars skipped the red light.
And before I knew it I was at the front of the queue facing the red light. I could feel my pulse rate rising as I approached the front of the queue. Were the lights broken? Was there a workman standing there signalling manually for us to skip the lights? But the lights had only just been on green, right? It’s not like we’d all been sitting at red for ages. They’d all skipped on through right after they changed to red.
What would you do?
So now here I am at the front of the queue. What will I do? What would you do? What’s the guy behind me expecting me to do? Is he going to be really pissed off if I stop at the red light? Or maybe I’ll actually take a whole heap of pressure off him because I’ll make the decision so he doesn’t have to.
And finally the cars waiting to come through the green light at their end come through waving gratfully at me for finally stopping.
Why did I stop? Was I afraid of getting into trouble or that there might be an accident? Well not really. It was a very small section of road closed off and you could see ahead to the queue of traffic waiting in the other direction.
I stopped because I’m not a follower.
I’m not a lemming. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve asked my daughter if she’d jump off a bridge because her friends did (she’s only seven so it’s pretty hypothetical at this point – usually the disagreement is whether she can wear a pink hair band to school because ‘everyone else does’ instead of the prescribed red ones or something equally as benign).
And I stopped because I know about the psychology behind collective action. And although there are various theories (usually applied to deepening our understanding of situations such as crowd behaviour and rioting, bystander intervention in emergencies and prejudice and conflict) all the studies have shown that basically humans can have a tendency to act a bit like lemmings.
Well if they’re doing it I’ll do it too.
There is a sense of shared responsibility and therefore diminished responsibility when behaviour is enacted in a group. It’s the ‘Well if they’re doing it I’ll do it too. If they’re doing it, it must be okay.’
What does this mean for you and your business? It means be careful who you follow. By all means check out the gurus, buy their programs and courses and absolutely invest in coaching and whatever support you need to help you in your business. But make sure it’s the right thing for you. Don’t follow someone’s every word just because loads of other people are. And don’t be afraid to do things differently. Don’t be afraid to do things your way. In fact please do. Don’t be afraid to break the mold, to take the lead, to say, ‘Hey I’m doing it this way, come follow me!‘.
Be a leader not a follower.
Are you a leader or a follower? Would you have skipped the lights? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.