In one of my recent posts about Balance, I spoke to the human need of balancing certainty and uncertainty.
A really good quote from Warren Buffett is “The five most dangerous words in business are: ‘Everybody else is doing it.”
He’s speaking of the need for Social Proof. When we are uncertain, we observe those around us to figure out how we should behave or how we should think. This need for certainty plus the need for belonging (also addressed in the Balance Blog) can combine for a deadly combination. That’s why Buffett describes them as dangerous.
This combines with another experience I (and likely you) have had when one of my parents discovered that I had done something stupid and asked “Would you jump off a building just because all your friends were doing it? Unfortunately, there are a few examples in history of people doing exactly that.
So how do we turn a moment of Social Proof into a moment of Social Poof? Magicians make things go “poof.” They disappear in a poof of smoke or a flurry of bright handkerchiefs. Why did they go, poof? Because they were illusions. They weren’t real. They were figments of our imaginations. The magician wanted us to “see” them so he could make them disappear.
Our marketing world is full of these Social Proof poofs.
You’re really somebody when you drive one of our cars.
Everybody who’s anybody drinks our beverage.
“Hi, I’m a professional actor and I endorse this product. You should want to buy it.” (Check out the Ted Danson Smirnoff commercials. They’re a great spoof of this concept.)
But, back to the purpose of this post. “The five most dangerous words in business.” Social Proof is a dangerous practice for leadership teams. I’ve seen these environments emerge when
- A leader is so competitive that it turns into a win-lose atmosphere. The leader expects total loyalty. If you’re not a “team player” you must be the enemy.
- The smartest person in the room syndrome. This may be a leader or simply a subject matter expert. But when the smartest person in the room exists, everyone else should get in line.
- I worked with a CEO once who told me (and I think actually believed) that he always listened to everyone on his team. When there was a position to be taken he would ask each person on the team what they thought and where they stood on the issue. But subtly, he would quietly listen to the person who had an opposite view without comment. While he would reinforce each person who agreed with his position. You knew immediately which side you were on.
Great teams break down these barriers and attempts at Social Proof by trusting and respecting diverse points of view and honestly dialoguing through them.
Make your Social Proofs go Poof! You and the team will be better off and better balanced.