It amazes me how many times a group of people can head in a direction that seems so wrong. We see a cult’s demise and wonder how so many people were involved and misguided to such a large degree.
We all assume we are above those influences. We think we would have been able to see through it all to see it is just a scam.
Yet time and time again psychologists and sociologists conduct experiments that prove just how vulnerable we are to others. It turns out we are easily persuaded when it comes to groupthink.
So how can we move away from this groupthink to think independently? Can we start to see those influences in a different way and start to respond objectively?
In Consumer.ology by Philip Graves, the author talks about how unaware we can be towards the way in which others can influence us.
He says, “Just as we are unaware of how our physical environment influences our thoughts and behavior, we don’t appreciate the subtle but significant influence that the actions of other people can have on us. Cults, religions, and brands all rely on some aspect of group influence to spread their message, sometimes with astonishing speed.”
He goes on to give some additional context, “History is littered with examples of times when groups have been influenced to behave in a way that can seem incomprehensible to others. When it came to power, the Nazi Party had two million members; by the time of its demise, it had more than eight million. While many of these people joined for career reasons, it has been estimated that there was an active membership of at least one million people, many of whom were in senior positions in the national government and to a greater or lesser degree integral to its nefarious objectives.”
Looking at the systems involved, we can start to devise ways for us to be above the crowd and not get too caught up in the group’s influence.
One leverage point in the system it that we often determine who we surround ourselves with. We can control who we are around, which then influences who influences us.
If we want to make sure we don’t make a poor decision because of those around us, then evaluate who are around us. Then we can start to take steps to surround ourselves with people we respect. We can make sure our values align and become more deliberate about who we spend our time with.
Many times our behavior doesn’t align with our thoughts. We often want to eat healthier and exercise but our body doesn’t seem to follow that desire. Instead we behave in a way that takes us in the opposite direction.
If we can use the systems and habits approach to gain control of this and align our thoughts and behaviors, we will naturally start to understand how we can reach our goals. This can help us chart our own course and not be so dependent on the group to determine what success is or what the normal path may be.
Others will always influence us. Our evolutionary journey proves the value of this ability to assimilate with the group and gain advantages that we don’t have when we are alone.
But using systems thinking we can start to explore the systems involved and start to make changes. These changes can help move in the right direction, regardless of the group. Then we can start to gain better control of our role in the system and adjust when we know a different response is warranted.