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!
***Enjoy this post? Subscribe and get all the updates. Hey, it’s free!***