I ran a red light today. Actually, a blinking red light, the kind that indicate that you are supposed to treat it like a stop sign. It was on a multi-lane one-way street in a long string of working stop lights.
Approaching it, I thought, “I should stop,” especially since there was a car waiting to cross a somewhat busy street.
There were no cars especially close in the rear view mirror, so it would have been safe to stop.
I glanced around for a police car, because surely it was against the law not to stop. (There wasn’t one.)
But everyone else in front of me was running it. I kept on driving right through the intersection as if it were green.
In the few seconds that I had to make the decision of whether or not to stop, I observed that I should stop, and I assessed that I could stop. In the end, the priority factor that influenced my decision was that everyone else kept going.
This phenomenon of human behavior was documented in the classic Asch Conformity Experiments, in which most subjects provided an obviously wrong answer to a question if everyone who answered before him answered it incorrectly.
The power of conformity, even in the anonymous scenario of driving down the street, is very strong. It’s the primary force that builds and maintains organizational culture and locks us in the status quo.
In follow-up studies to the Asch Experiments, it was found that if even one person in the group provides a different answer than the rest of the crowd, the subjects were much more likely to provide the answer they knew was right.
One person, by doing something different than what everyone else is doing, has the power to free everyone else from conformity.
What might you do?