For those of you who queued for half an hour for the Tim Harford lecture on Monday just to find out that the Old Theatre was already full, I thought I’d spread the message of the famous behavioural economist, author of Undercover Economist and co-author of Freakonomics.
If you want to change the world, all you have to do is experiment. Make changes. Easy, isn’t it? So why do we not do it? Being different is difficult. And being innovative means being different. This is why we don’t say our mind when it comes to contradicting everyone else. Yes, EVERYONE else. Because studies show that when one person before you says something different to everyone else, be it the stupidest answer in the world, you then feel free to speak your mind.
This is one of the psychologist Simon Asch’s experiments:
There is one card with 3 lines (A, B, C) of different lengths and a reference line. The student has to say which line has the same length as the reference line. The lines are of very different lengths and the task is easy. The answer is B. The student who is being experimented upon sits at the end of a row where all the other chairs are occupied by actors working for Simon Asch. The experiment runs four times.
The first time, all the actors say A. The student says A.
The second time, all the actors say A, but one, who says B. The student says B.
The third time, all the actors say A, but one, who says C. The student says B.
The fourth time, all the actors say A, but one, who is blind and therefore cannot see the cards. The student says B.
What does this tell us? All we need is to feel that we are not the only one being different. Even if the person before us says something we know is wrong or unfounded, it frees us to speak our mind.
Now I am not assuming that you have the right answer, but even if you are the one who says C, you may be allowing someone in the room who has the answer to speak up.
It is a shame that we are often pushed to say things we don’t think when everyone else seem to believe them. But keep that in mind that it may mean that other people may just not have the guts to be different. Only one person is needed to break the spell of conformity, however big the room is. Be that person! Don’t be afraid to be different, and always speak you mind, even if everyone else seems to agree with something else.