What Is Herd Mentality
With the holiday season approaching this topic seemed like a good one to discuss. Let me cue this up for you. Picture if you will………
On Black Friday my wife and I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods to do some holiday shopping for our 2 daughters. Yes, I know, the simple act of going out shopping on Black Friday is a PRIME example of the herd mentality. But wait, it gets better. We went in the middle of the afternoon so things weren’t as crazy as they probably would have been at 8AM or 9AM. But it will still fairly busy. As I shuffled around the store behind my wife holding the growing pile of clothes we were going to buy for our daughters I started to notice something through my half awake eyes. The vast majority of the people in the store, both male and female, looked eerily similar. They looked similar in the clothes they were wearing, which, as you might have guessed, was pretty sporty. Nike this and Adidas that and Under Armour shirts and Asics shoes and on and on and on. I am not joking when I say 9 out of 10 people were dressed in sporty clothing from their shoes to their leggings to their sweatshirts topped off with a headband or a baseball hat. And a lot of them were carrying a Starbuck’s drink or something in their YETI.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is herd mentality. We do what our friends and neighbors are doing on a subconscious level because we all want to belong. Well, not all of us, but the majority of us.
Urban Dictionary’s definition is this: The inability or refusal to listen to one’s own instinct or ‘gut feeling” but to instead follow the majority for fear of being wrong, ostracized or ridiculed.
Here are further examples of herd mentality:
- One of the best examples is the stock market. The market depends quite a bit on the users actions. When people notice a lot of people selling a stock for example, more and more people tend to sell that same stock thinking something is going on. They assume other people know something that they don’t.
- In a reference to my wandering around Dick’s above fashion is another good example of the herd mentality. For some reason around the office I work in there is a sweater/sweatshirt type combo made of course by brands such as Izod and the like that are quite popular with the guys. I noticed a few on some of our senior management then lo and behold, over the course of a few months, many lads in the office were sporting them.
- Keeping up with the Joneses. This is really a whole other topic (consumerism and keeping up appearances) but have you ever noticed how if one of your neighbors gets a snowblower then 3 others do? Or if someone gets an unground sprinkler system put in then several other people sign up to get one with the same company? I sure do.
- Shows: AKA Netflix. I use Netflix here because it’s a great example. I just saw a post by a friend of mine on FaceBook last week asking for suggestions for her next show to binge watch on Netflix. And her post blew up! Because we all want to watch the same things so we have stuff to talk about. By the way my suggestions were Longmire and Stranger Things.
- Sports Teams. I live in Kansas City and if you aren’t a Chief’s or Royals fan you might as well have horns on your head. Everyone dresses in Chief’s jersey’s for Red Friday (before a home game) and during baseball season when you are out and about probably 40% of people are wearing a Royals jersey of some sort. If you think I’m kidding come visit me in Kansas City.
Go Against The Herd
We all tend to follow the herd from time to time and that’s okay. When we are uncertain about what “normal” is we tend to trust what others are doing as being appropriate because so many people are doing it. But it also bears discussing that it’s not a great idea to always follow the herd. Individuality is important as well as simply being yourself. Following what other people are doing all the time will lead you to where everyone else goes all the time – and that’s not the path for us. Here’s some ways to go against the herd.
Above all be yourself. Know yourself and be yourself. That way you can go down whatever road is right for you. When you know who you are and what is important to you the rest kind of falls away. You don’t need to look to others for their acceptance and nod of approval, you’ve got your own and that’s all you need.
Be comfortable having conflicts. Learn to have arguments and to stand up for yourself. The problem is many people are fairly easily to bend to the will of others. And that’s fine in some instances but not in most. You need to be okay with agreeing to disagree. One former COO I worked for used to say that a big reason why the company had such great success was that it tended to hire A (driven) personalities. And because of that people would “violently agree” in his words. Which meant people had different points of view and would argue for them then ultimately come up with the best solution for the client. I loved that, violently agree.
Question things. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it needs to keep being done a certain way. Ask a lot of questions. If you think something would work better or more efficiently or cheaper or whatever a different way, say so. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and suggest a new way of doing things. This is how innovation happens people.
Know what you want. At least in some things. This is another way of saying have some goals. If you have goals and are working towards them chances are you are somewhat inspired to achieve them. And if you are inspired to achieve them you will focus on them and work towards them and not really have as much care for what others are doing because you are following your own path and your own agenda. So go get it.
It’s okay to fail. If you are failing you are trying. And if you are trying and failing you are doing more than the vast majority of the herd. This is something that keeps most people locked in tight to the herd – they don’t want to fail and even more importantly, they don’t want anyone to see them fail. It’s okay to fail, it means you are trying to do something that is unique to you or maybe hasn’t even ever been done. Remember Mr. Gretzky:
So it’s okay to follow the herd on some things, maybe even a lot of things. It’s probably best to stop on red and go on green like all the other cars are doing. It’s fine to cheer for your hometown sports team with your buddies. I won’t say anything if I see you with a YETI thermal cup because I want one too, I can be a sucker for marketing. But it’s not okay to follow the herd on everything. Make sure you know what you want and what you are about so you can carve your own direction and NOT follow the herd in everything.
All my best,