Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Group Interaction

I wrote a number of columns back about the way people manage to walk through crowds but what is just as interesting is how crowds react to people walking through them. People react, then others react to their reaction, them more react to the reaction of the people reacting, and so on and so on and so on.

This happens in nature all the time. Near blind army ants on densely populated trails spontaneously form traffic lanes to minimize congestion. A school of fish will turn as one in reaction to a threat, as if reeling from a blow. A swarm of bees tell each other where and how far the flowers are by their particular looping flight pattern and the waggle of their tails. Range animals will take to stampeding if one of them is startled for no good reason. A High School popular will wear a particular outfit and the next week all the wannabees are wearing the same thing. You know, nature.

I was sitting at a stop light fiddling with the radio when the car in front of me lurched and I followed suit thinking the light was now green and almost ran into the back of the quick brake lights in front of me. I saw the guy behind almost hit me and so did the people next to me.

Sometimes this collective unconscious reaction is beneficial like when there is a TRUE danger or realistic incentive. Sometimes the group response is banal or harmless like a viral video or Black Friday sale. Often, though, these unconscious group motions are harmful. Yelling "FIRE" in a crowded room. Peer pressure. Enron-like doctoring numbers to make you look better. The question becomes "How can I resist the pressure, the automatic response?"

The first thing you can do is PAY ATTENTION! If I would have been watching the traffic light instead of fiddling with my radio I never would have been duped into lurching.

The second thing you can do is PLAN AHEAD! If you rehearsed your response to "Would you please lie for me?" you would NOT give in to the pressure. Rehearse saying, "I'm sorry but lying will hurt you AND me, I can't do it." If you planned your expenses and money management you would not be swayed by the latest trend or gadget.

The third thing you can do is PICK WISELY your friends and who you trust. If the people you surround yourself with are trustworthy and "have your back" then if they react you can trust their reaction and follow the group.

The fourth thing you can do is FOCUS. I had to catch chickens when I was on the farm growing up and one thing I discovered was that I could not catch all of them at one time. As much as I tried I could not catch one until I began focusing on just one and not the whole group. When I chased that ONE I could catch him. Then the distractions of the group of chicken's faded away.

So pay attention, plan ahead, pick your friends wisely, and focus. Then you will be Jenny I who weathers the storm and becomes the BubbaGump Shrimp of your world.

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