Monday, July 12, 2010

Stories of Mass Delirium

Sometimes people are irrational. At times, they are illogical. There are instances when they are nuts!

Last weekend I went to Pamplona (Spain) for the San Fermín Festival. It's an annual one-week long festival dedicated to the local patron saint and the most prominent feature of the event is daily running with the bulls and the subsequent encierro and afternoon corrida. Nobody has ever been able to outrun the bulls (not even athletes) and every year there are injuries (only I saw two guys being carried away on a stretcher in two days). The latest death was recorded last year and the death count amounts to 15 since 1911 when the official runs started.

What makes people do such crazy things? If we take someone out and ask him (her) run with the bulls, most likely the answer will be "No, thank you very much". However, as the crowd swells, its members become braver, more reckless and - yes - crazier. A lot, surely, has to do with collective unconscious, a term was coined by Carl Jung early in the last century. A bit later such behavior was better described in terms of herd instinct. I recall from my Psychology classes that such instances can be categorizes as chronotypes and are subject to a host of conditions, less of star positions and wind movements. Without getting too philosophical about it, the question is - what makes people flock to Pamplona each year, put on white clothes, red neck scarves and belts and engage in one of the most dangerous and seemingly pointless activity of running with the bulls and teasing them afterwards?

If we could find the answer to this question, it would be so easy to mobilize masses of people in no time, who would willingly and eagerly engage in a collective effort for whatever cause. I fathom that the history gave us such examples:

Analyzing the common elements of the above, it is possible to identify certain common elements:

  • sense of unity and belonging
  • high emotional charge
  • high level of dissatisfaction/perceived danger/extreme pride (something worth to fight/live/die for)
  • willingness to succeed
  • leaders and, consequently, vision for change
Now if we compare these five against any mass change theory, what is the overlap? Very significant I would say... So should now we be reading cases from human history alongside business cases in the MBA programs? Because if senior leaders can understand the underlying forces that make people perform at the limits of their capacity, put in an extra effort, go an extra mile and be loyal to the work they are doing, at the end of the day it is the only thing that matters in a manager's job.

The weekend was too emotional for me with the whole Pamplona and the World Cup story, and I might not be totally rational drawing these conclusions, so I am welcoming you to prove me wrong. There is only one thing you cannot take me on:


1 comment:

  1. I am amazed by your ability to turn everyday experiences into valuable HR lessons. Keep your posts coming!



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