This is a kind of follow-up to my post on Prophecy. This one really stems from a conversation I have been having with one of the people in China that works for me and a problem that I can foresee rushing toward us like a freight train. As I said in the previous post, on a general basis, I know how specific groups of people will react to certain situations, and it isn’t hard for me to see where and how events will unfold. This isn’t magic; it’s psychology and mathematics.
People tend toward ‘herd thinking’ without knowing they are doing so. For the most part, we find safety in numbers. The example I recently read was; ‘a couple is out and goes to pick a restaurant (A and B) they see two choices, both are empty, so they choose restaurant A. Another couple comes along and sees the two restaurants, A has people in it, and B is empty. That couple chooses A as well because they assume that it is a better restaurant.’ This isn’t precisely herd behavior. A better example of humans in herd behavior is a large group protesting or in a crisis situation.
In a protest or riot, when the people are confronted with an opposing force that is stronger than them, they tend to break and rush to escape. This usually starts with one or a small group and then spreads to the rest of the people. Soon, the entire ‘herd’ is trying to get away from the opposing force. But there are more subtle forms of herd behavior that happen in the workplace.
If a program or system is being implemented in the workplace, and the ‘boss’ makes a decision that something needs to supersede that particular project an impression, true or false, is implanted throughout the organization that the program or system isn’t highly valued. I have observed this phenomenon far more times than I can count. I am not criticizing the superior for their decision, that’s a part of their job, I am merely stating a fact.
In production environments, operations and sales personnel tend to think, as a group, the most essential aspect of their jobs is to get parts out the door. While they may believe this is what generates revenue, they are only partially correct. If those parts are not correctly made, customer dissatisfaction goes up, parts are returned, and the cost usually is much higher than the original revenue. I won’t go into the various ‘work-arounds’ that I have encountered in China to this problem; that’s a subject for a book all on its own.
Many businesses today must meet certain minimum regulatory and customer requirements. Quality Management Systems, Environmental Management Systems, Health, and Safety Management Systems, Social Responsibility Management Systems, etc. are some of the types of requirements being imposed. Unfortunately, many of the top personnel in organizations view these as ‘add-ons’ to what they do, and getting parts out the door still remains foremost in their minds. That being said, the implementation of these systems is usually relegated to an individual with the (completely false) thought being they can get it all done on their own. Therein lay the seeds of many company’s downfalls.
Industrial customers today are far savvier than they have ever been. These customers not only look for and expect their suppliers to meet the regulatory requirements and have the certification to prove it, but they will also audit that supplier themselves. I can tell you from a wealth of experience that these customer audits are much more stringent than any regulatory agency.
My point is, there are consequences to decisions that affect ‘the herd,’ and most of these can be predicted. Let’s look at Hong Kong today as another example.
Hong Kong (HK) is having protests or riots depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall. If you look at what is happening, the government of HK is actually causing the problem to increase through a lack of understanding of basic herd mentality. The original protests began over the fear of a bill being passed that would allow Mainland China to, essentially, pull anyone off the street and extradite them for trial. Fear is an important word here.
Fear leads to anger. In fact, almost all anger is based, in some way, on fear. While the bill was eventually shelved, it wasn’t until the herd had already grown to a size where other fears/anger bubbled up. Now, it appears the issue has become, how much autonomy will HK really have? The HK government, instead of finding a way to ease or remove the fear, has amplified it by issuing new threats to the protesters/rioters. The HK and Chinese governments are in the process of creating the kind of self-defeating herd reaction they really do not want but may not understand how to stop. ‘Crushing’ the protesters usually leads to a more widespread problem but is almost always the instinctive reaction that governments, and in some cases businesses, have.
So, let’s look at a couple of the possible outcomes for HK:
1. The HK government finds a way to help ease the fear of the loss of autonomy, and the protesters/rioters no longer have a focal point.
2. The Chinese government becomes involved. This will likely cause an attempted mass exodus from HK.
3. Both governments ignore the protests, so long as they are peaceful, until such a time as they dwindle to nothing.
You might be able to think of more outcomes, but they are probably a variation of one or more of these three.
The way that groups of people will act and react can be hard to predict. Care needs to be taken when making an evaluation. One factor, in business, that usually helps to drive proper action of ‘the herd’ is a strong, knowledgeable leader that is focused on long-term success.
Stay strong as we get over ‘the hump’ of the week!