Understanding human behavior can help you build a stronger performing business, improve your happiness, make better decisions, and even design better built environments. Overlooking it can cause us to make poor decisions and place us in situations that waste our time and energy.
Human behavior is at the center of everything we do. It permeates our work, our social networks, and our lives in general. However, we often overlook the nuances of behavior and make decisions as if ourselves and those around us are statistical machines.
As Rory Sutherland, the Vice Chairman of the Ogilvy Group, says, “Humans don’t understand humans. We think we understand them, but in reality, we do a pretty poor job at it.” This is also true for our understanding of ourselves – the decisions we make and the invisible influences behind them.
Here is a story that highlights this point: a few years back I met a waiter in Jackson, WY, who likes to play a game. On his way home from work, he pulls his car over, steps out, and puts his hand over his eyes like a visor while pointing toward the horizon. Almost immediately, a mob of cars ensues. People jump out to frantically stare at an empty field while he quietly hops back in his car and heads home with a smirk.
This is social proof at work, albeit mischievously. Social proof is the idea that we looking to others to understand how to behave in a given situation, especially when that situation is unfamiliar.
Often in this area, people stop because there are bison, and a line of cars means a shot at viewing them. The rational thing to do is to hop out and take a quick look. If there are no bison, hop back in and keep going. Yet, even with an empty field, people linger for a long time, assuming they are missing something because others are there.
Humans tend to mimic the behavior of others. We are also terrified of loss. It is less painful to wait and see nothing than it is to leave and think we missed the opportunity to see the bison.
Ask yourself, how often in life are you or your business stopping in “fake bison traffic”?
By taking the time to understand the intricacies as individuals, we can better recognize our rational and irrational selves. We can make better decisions and genuinely live happier, more intentional, and more successful lives.
Additionally, when businesses make the investment in understanding behavioral science, they can build stronger workforces, increase motivation, improve the health and wellbeing of the company, and thrive.
Commit to learning and you will find the real bison (or at least stop wasting time looking for bison that aren’t there).