Conformity in Decision Making

I recently was invited to join a few friends at a professional basketball game. Tickets were free, parking was free and we sat in a private box. Even the food was free with no hint of plastic cheese nachos and $6 sodas.

It was glorious.

When sitting in a box, you never know if the person next to you is a big-wig client of the company that owns the box so I was careful not to offend. But it was a close game and pretty soon we were all behaving like the rest of the arena – cheering, standing, shouting, and giving high-fives to one another without a hint of decorum. Assisted by prompts on the scoreboard, we were behaving like “true fans” by halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the huge video monitor displayed the “Kiss Cam” – random shots of couples in the arena. The activity dictates that when the camera was trained on each pair, they would smile and smooch. It was an entertaining distraction, especially when one young guy refused to kiss his “date”. As the crowd began to boo, the guy mouthed the words, “She’s my sister!”

But he kissed her on the cheek anyway. Conformity is a powerful thing.

The behavior in the arena that night got me thinking about how the need for conformity impacts our organizational decision making. Our corporate cultures can be so strong, that we stop questioning decisions. Check out this astounding video on Social Conformity from the Brain Games TV show.

If your organization needs to innovate, but decisions are stuck in “the way we’ve always done it”, consider these tips for re-framing decisions.

1. Beware the “sunk cost” trap: Often times we support a decision or system simply because of the time and money invested in the solution. Before sticking with the status quo, ask yourself, “If we were making this decision all over again, would our current path be the best decision for achieving the objectives we had set for ourselves?” If not, reconsider.

2. Behave like the enemy: As you are making decisions, consider how the competition would react to your decision. What holes would they expose? How might they sell against you? What might completely disrupt the way they do business and truly scare them?

3. Develop a tiger team: Some of the most innovative organizations spin off a small team of people with varied backgrounds and allow them to solve complex problems in a new environment – physically removed from the prevailing culture. They might take on a new name, benchmark different industries, and run pilot projects to test the waters and avoid conformity.

At Action Management Associates, we have over 35 years of experience helping our clients change the “way they’ve always done it.”  If you would like to implement solutions to challenge decision making, give us a call at 800-386-5611! We’d love to help.


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