Want big rewards? Don't be average.

Social proof is the theory that in periods of uncertainty, we look to others to determine what to do.

For example, if you see 500 people running away from a building, even if you aren’t sure what is going on, you will run right along with them. Chances are the building is falling, or some other doom is impending. Your genes will thank you. Social proof just saved your hide.

Unfortunately, this behavior assumes that the masses are “right”. In everyday life, this is rarely the case. For example, walk into an average cafeteria, and look at the crap people eat. If you rely on a typical corporate worker’s diet to dictate your own nutrition, you might as well plan for early retirement….due to a massive heart attack.

Most people don’t want to settle for average. Especially in a world where the average person does not get average rewards. The brutal truth is that average people get well below average rewards. Why is that the case? It’s simple to understand. Outstanding people produce spectacular results and therefore get most, if not all of the rewards…and deservedly so.

I look at Microsoft (where I work) as a great example. People who are super-star performers get very out-sized rewards in term of stock/bonuses when compared with people who do average work. Similarly, in major league sports, the first round draft picks get 2-10x the compensation when compared with second round draft picks. Everybody remebers the Olympic Medal winners, no one remembers fourth place.

People who do awesome work get awesome rewards. It is that simple.

If you need social proof to justify everything you do, you are doomed to mediocrity. Even worse; just consider that social proof led to:

  • The belief that the world was flat even though primitive science showed evidence to the contrary
  • The Rise of Nazi Germany, KKK and numerous other hate groups
  • The LA Riots and WTO Riots in Seattle (and most riots elsewhere in fact)
  • AquaNet, big hair and cheesy metal bands in the 80’s
  • The stock market bubble in the 90’s
  • The real estate bubble today

Social proof can really lead to disaster. I read a story several years ago of a brutal rape and murder of a girl in New York City. Apparently, the victim was stabbed and attacked at 2am in a crowded residential area of the city. She was brutally attacked and raped for over 3 hours. All the while, she was screaming and making sounds to cry for help. People could hear her, and were standing in their windows looking, but did nothing. It was dark and no one was sure what was going on.

In the morning, the police interviewed the neighborhood and it became clear that over 35 people had heard a commotion, but did nothing. It wasn’t that they were afraid to risk their lives by stepping outside their homes; they didn’t even bother to call the police! The common excuse was that people assumed 1) someone else would take care of the problem or 2) there was no problem.

This is a severe example, but proves the point. Don’t look for society to dictate your life…especially in times of uncertainty. This is hard to do. To help; seek out people who excel. Surround yourself with friends who help you to improve and grow. Doing this will at least help you define a higher standard for what “social norms” really should be.

Ultimately, just keep striving to improve. Don’t settle for average results. You’ll end up achieving more, and helping your friends in the process. Who knows, maybe next time you see that crowd of people running away from a disaster….you’ll figure out a way to fix the problem instead of avoiding it!

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21 thoughts on “Want big rewards? Don't be average.”

  1. Ravi thanks for the post, that’s real food for my thoughts/soul.

    By the way, i think the most important part of surrounding ourselves with high quality friendships is, learning, to stay away from the people who doesn’t support us, who do us bad/harm or even destroys our inner child, our being….

    …..just by envy. This is a topic that deserves its post.

    Envy is a human condition that make people to pull others down, let’s take the example of a wall and a bunch of people climbing it (a bucket full of crabs trying to getting out of it will serve too)

    Envy make people who look other people climbing it…. to pull them down…. by too many motives.

    That’s the kinda relationships we all got to get rid

    That’s the kinda relationship we all got to learn to stay aware for it

    That’s the kinda relationship we all got to learn to let them go

    That’s the kinda relationship we all got to take the concious effort to move on

    For me its simple, Social proof, has its own standards (btw low standards) and when someone excel those (learned) standards…in their heads light a red bulb or red light that says “it cannot be done like he tryies to do, it has to be the way I LEARNED”

    Thats the motive (justify) behind their behavior for their resistance to change….and when what they try to block…it actually works, thats the recipe of envy.

    Like i said it is a completely new post… but…staying away form average, its the key to success….and success has its bill…..and it is envy.

    So i think, by my experience, its important like a basket ball player: to have good offensive skills, but, to keep improving the defense too.

    It isn’t just to learning to stay away from average, but to defend ourselves from the average people too, while in our journey to excel.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, you are what i consider, a good friend.. success and well being to you my friend.

  2. Great article. The real-life example of social proof was especially good. It definitly makes me wonder how often similar situations occur because of social proof. Keep up the nice work! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. Hi Craig, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Your point on “losing the kid in us” is right on. It is really curiosity (a natural childhood behavior) that keeps us growing and pushing our boundaries. As I’ve finished college and started working a corporate job, the pressure to “settlle” and conform has definitely increased. Curiosity not valued nearly as much….or even accepted, as we get older.

    Luckily, I’ve been lucky to have many amazing friends come into my live at different points.

    I’ve found that in most cases it has actually been my friendships that have most helped me to realize when I am stagnating…and given me the added boost to get back in gear!

    I am a true believer that the friends you keep define who you will become over the long term. Seeking out positive friendships (ones that will push me and help me grow) has therefore been a #1 priority for me throughout my life.

    btw…checked out your site…it is great! will be reading it regularly from now on.

  5. Great Post Ravi!

    Your blog is a fantastic personal development resource.

    You’re absolutely right!

    We’re so focused on creating a career, marrying before a certain age, producing our 2.3 kids, doing what’s expected, making money, ticking boxes, doing all the necessary ‘practical life’ stuff, that we gradually and un-intentionally, lose part of ourselves.

    Of course we have to make money, pay bills and do all those grown-up things, but for many of us, somewhere along the way we lost the idealist, the dreamer, the optimist and the kid in us, who was always going to do and be something amazing.

    Somewhere between then and now our standards changed, we started to think differently and we let the world beat the hope, excitement, creativity and the optimism out of us.

    Somewhere, somehow… we settled.
    We compromised.
    We got tired, frustrated and disillusioned.

    We got older… and more cynical..and more negative… and smarter… and dumber.

    We started to rationalise our current situation with a very sensible, mature… and crippling perspective.

    Keep up the great writing Ravi!

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