Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to kick over a beehive and survive. Social Proof Be Damned.

Bees, Humans, Tribes, Herds - not so much difference.
And turning from follower to leader doesn't hurt, it helps.


Background: On another blog about Internet Marketing and Marketing Insight, I've been examining how marketing is done on line, using keywords which people commonly search for - and then tracking these down to the long-tail, profitable niches. This trains you quickly to ignore the spiky trends and seek out the flat niches, where people dependably buy over a longer period of time.

Added to this is recent work in buying and reading books (usually I just download what I need, but for some reason I had to have a few of these new ones in print) - so I bought these few books: Gladwell's "Outliers", Godin's "Tribes", and now I did get a bootleg copy of Cialdini's "Influence". If you are familiar with these three books, you can see how they work together. And reading Cialdini last tends to fill in the missing parts of the first two.

Gladwell is an illustrator, he really doesn't prescribe anything. So he only rambles on about a coherent theme, saying that people are more or less the effect of their social environment, regardless of how brilliant they are. (And he misses the point that he thinks all brilliant people should be monetary and social successes - his own tribe.)

Godin is a marketer, but while he markets marketing, he doesn't really get a cohesive call-to-arms in his book. What this is, really, is a collection of essays of studies he's been doing down a particular line. So you can see the trend of his research, but not any end point. Godin points out that most of us live in Tribes and only a handful lead those tribes. He calls ineffectively for people to become leaders of their own tribes. Ineffectively, because he never lays out how a person moves from tribal member to tribal leader.

Cialdini's book (and I'm only really about half-way through, as it's scientifically thick - unlike the more populist writing styles above) - his book is really, really fascinating. Because he is outlining how he, you, and I have been patsy's our entire lives - because it's in our make-up and our native training. But he goes further in outlining how people don't have to be the effect of people who use these to their own advantage - or tribes which only follow the leader.

For instance: people follow the actions of people around them. If a lot of people are seeming to take no action, then they will take no action. And so you can see people get mugged, killed, brutalized in plain sight with no one taking any action. This explains a lower crime rate per capita in rural areas - people tend to act independently, because there are fewer of them.

But this also brings to view my own work in studying this recurrent Bell Curve phenomenon. Now, as I've posted, the Bell Curve and Long Tail in marketing are so similar, they are nearly identical. If you can figure out what people are buying into and get into that market ahead of that trend, you'll find very profitable sweet-spots. Problem is that people can't predict trends - or so they lead you to believe.

Now, a recap: an economist named Pareto made an observation that became the "80/20" rule. 80% of your income comes form 20% of your customers. (And most of your problems at work are caused by a minority of your workers by the same proportion - at least in large corporations.) Anecdotally, I'd heard a local police official state that 90% of their crimes were caused by the same 5% of the local population - as Casablanca had it, "the usual suspects."

But then, 20 percent of 20 percent is what - around 4 percent.

Cialdini quotes one Cavett Robert, who tells his sales trainees: "Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer."

You see, most of us take our clues from the bulk of the people around us - which explains why governments exist regardless of the fact that people hate them. (Some thought that however bad it is, it's probably better than nothing.)

But all thought from the tribe is justification. People are going to follow the bulk action.

And so, Gladwell was disappointed with this one genius he found who simply wanted to live a quiet life on a backwoods Missouri farm so he could write a book which described the systems which ran this universe. He explained his actions by lack of social training. But it is Gladwell who has been mistrained. While he seeks out the unique stories as part of his job writing for a New York magazine, he is only again working for the larger tribe and penning articles which they find amusing - but won't find too inspiring or motivating.

Gladwell's concept is that brilliant people should be over-achievers - leaders and wealthy. But when he finds that many brilliant people simply want to live "normal" lives, he's curious about this, and a bit disdainful.

The truly brilliant can make their own choices. And be brilliant followers if they wish. They can merge into the woodwork better than the "average" person - just because they are so gifted. Like Poe's letter - the best place to hide is in plain sight.

All you have to do is to observe what people around you are doing and then look and act like them.

So who, then, are our leaders?

A definition of our leaders won't be found in their autobiographies - because most industrial and market leaders don't write. Now a few, like Shakespeare, put their incredible thoughts out for the world to study at its leisure. And in doing so, laid out all the key concepts found in all religions and time-proved philosophies on this planet.

So you'll find a lot of biographies which were written by others about those leaders - most always third-hand information.

Stories about leaders don't express the unique genius of those leaders, they express what we want and what we feel about leaders. Popular books are just that - written and consumed by the bulk of the populace. That's what most of any group are: consumers. They are customers of habit - they act by custom.

But these leaders are not intentional. (The worst case I've seen of a person trying to become a leader was a Missouri governor who studied "Political Science" and worked his way up the ranks to get himself elected - then promptly was defeated in the next primary. Actually enabled the other party to gain and hold complete control of the state legislature.)

Leaders aren't accidental, either. They are people who tend to think completely independently of the world around them. Probably, outside of the "accidental" situations where people are thrust into the limelight and somehow survive (but again, Gladwell reminds us of the 10,000 hour theory - that it takes that long to really learn any profession) - outside of the apparent exceptions, most leaders have - by these same 10,000 hours of study prepared themselves to consistently think outside the box. And that's any particular box or all boxes - they take their choice.

But they are completely individuals and know what they are doing.

What really makes the individual a success is a singular passion. Napoleon Hill's "Burning Desire." They simply follow this passion and train down that line so that they understand exactly what it is that they need to know in order to succeed at what they really want in life.

The bulk of the people on this planet don't. They seem happy enough to live out their lives as "grist for the mill" or, in an earlier age, "cannon fodder."

Does government know this? No. They are just as much social followers as anyone. Otherwise, they might get something done in those hallowed halls besides regularly changing our "Daylight Savings Time" (another governmental oxymoron - how much daylight do they save with this?).

The last leaders in government you'll find were our Founding Fathers - most of which didn't actually fit the bill of leaders, per se. But this tiny minority of people banded together in their own group and took a body of peaceful settlers right over an ideological cliff. Most of the people in the Colonies didn't want to do anything except raise a family and live their lives out. But England had sown their own seed (much like Australia) where they sent their malcontents over to another land, full of their malcontented ideas.

And extremists like Locke and Adam Smith became the rallying cry for these handful of people, supported by "liberal" interpretations of the Bible and Shakespeare, among others. (But you also have to note that most of the Americas were rural at that time - full of independent peoples.)

Those same ideas still range far and wide.

Sure, we are beset at present by "vested interests" which are not the corporate K-street lobbyists, as some would have you believe, but actually the populist vocal-points who simply follow the followers. Our vested interests are our own Congressmen who think they get elected by "bringing home the pork" with earmarks. But I diverge.

The point of this is that each of us are individuals and both can and should develop our own keen sense of individuality - a native distrust for accepting what simply goes on around us. People can live better lives by their own individual choices.

But they have to learn to make those choices.

I could rail on at this point about how one author says that the first seven years of life are where you learn everything about living - and then the rest of your life you are hard at work un-learning all that. And government schools - a near monopoly on education - which is built on Prussian military organization so that people learn to operate in groups.

You can find out all this for yourself - all the data is readily available.

And that's what makes this time we have incredibly unique. With the Internet, anyone can find out almost anything. If you train yourself to look for patterns, systems, routines in the world around you, that same world will tell you how it can be mastered. Mastered completely. Every single clue you could need is right out in front of you.

All you have to do is open your eyes and look. Then keep looking despite all efforts of those around you to close your eyes for whatever reason they say.

I've done my long studies in these areas just for that reason - to help people find out about themselves and to help them change their own lives. And that work, you can be assured, will never quit.

This is, of course, the reason I continue to blog. One day, all this will pay off - as it reaches its Tipping Point (another Gladwell book).

For you - just keep being yourself. Find out what you really want in life and really go after it. Put everything and more behind it.

Because all your happiness and self-satisfaction depend on following only what you - and not the crowds and groups you've been part of - really want out of life.

Good Hunting!