Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Group-think ...lessons from "the wave"

One of the things I believe to be very important and often undervalued is one's ability to influence others. As a consultant this is especially important because no matter how good of a solution you offer to a problem, the implementation WILL FAIL without the collective group buying into the ideas.

That being said, how does one person or a small group of people get an entire organization to do something they may not be too excited about?

I've been thinking about this some and I'm sure there are dozen's of books on the subject, but I've taken a different approach to gathering information that may or may not have broad implications.

So I've been going to a lot of Red Sox games this year...and there's a lot to think about when you're in a stadium for 3 hours without much else going on. Every game around the 6th inning something happens..."the wave". I started thinking about it and wondered, how does the wave start, who starts it, and how does a small group get an entire stadium to stop paying attention to the game and do "the wave."

In the last 5 or 6 games I've been paying closer attention and trying to figure this out and have made a few key observations:

1) The wave is usually started by a single person or a small group of VERY motivated individuals.

2) The wave is most effectively propagated when the game is slow.

3) The wave begins with a small group and spreads over time.

4) A successful wave with everyone working together is actually pretty fun.

I think that this is probably a general pattern that holds true for implementation of new ideas in a business too.

1) Ideas are implemented by a single person (CEO) or a small group of people (management team). If the management doesn't buy in, than the likelihood of success was nil from the beginning. This is why it is crucial to work with management in developing solutions so that they buy into the ideas from the beginning...making them feel that they were part of the solution is a great way to accomplish this.

2) New ideas will be more readily adopted if business (the game) is slow or if there is a problem with the status quo. If the perception is that things are going great and business is vibrant and exciting, there won't be any incentive to change. In the case of implementing a change it is therefore vital to make stakeholders realize that the status quo is unacceptable and that change is required.

3) The first attempt at the wave is never successful and requires multiple tries until it catches on...such is it with implementing new ideas as well. It is tough to move people from status quo to a new way of doing business. At first there will be a small group that is rapidly adapt a new way of life and there will be those that resit. An idea has to be continually pushed forward time and time again until a majority sees the light. Even then not everyone will comply, but if the overwhelming majority is moving in the right direction, it is hard to notice those who aren't complying and their decent no longer effects the end result.

4) Seeing an good idea take on a life of its own is a good thing...especially to those who developed the solution. At the game, it's always the one ultra-motivated (or drunk) guy that started the wave that gets the most satisfaction from seeing it move around all of Fenway!


  1. Very insightful...do all consultants think about consulting when they are at sporting events, concerts, etc? Is it a bad sign if I don't?!

  2. An interesting analogy you have made!

    I was only in Fenway Park for a game once, even though I lived in Fenway for a year... It was quite impressive and exciting to see and join the wave going round and round. Despite of my lack of knowledge about baseball, I had a wonderful time. The wave gives people a chance to participate and influence the game and makes the audience no longer just watchers but also players.

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