Maximize Your Influence

Your environment and the expectations of that environment should be persuasive. There is a concept called the Phillip Zimbado’s Broken Window Theory. This theory suggests that a building full of broken windows will cause people to assume that no one cares for the building or its appearance. This in turn will spur more vandalism and more broken windows. In other words, the environment's condition gives suggestions that lead people to hold certain assumptions, and people then act on those assumptions. The broken windows invite greater damage and crime.   Zimbardo did a study illustrating this point.  He left his car out on the street in Palo Alto California.  The first week the car blended in with all the other cars and nothing happened to it.  After the first week he broke one on the windows of the car and left it on the street.  Just by the one broken window he found that it dramatically increases the chances that it would be vandalized.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell uses an example of the Broken Window Theory as he explains the New York City subway clean-up. The subway system was in dire need of rebuilding—a multibillion-dollar endeavor. With the system about to collapse, the focus was understandably on issues like reducing crime and improving subway reliability. As a consultant hired by the New York Transit Authority, George Kelling urged officials to utilize the Broken Window Theory. They were hired to clean up the subways, they immediately assigned people to start cleaning up all the graffiti. Removing the graffiti seemed to be of such little consequence compared to everything else there was to worry about, but Gunn was insistent. In his own words:

The graffiti was symbolic of the collapse of the system. When you looked at the process of rebuilding the organization and morale, you had to win the battle against graffiti. Without winning that battle, all the management reforms and physical changes just weren't going to happen. We were about to put out new trains that were worth about ten million bucks apiece, and unless we did something to protect them, we knew just what would happen. They would last one day and then they would be vandalized.  The entire anti-graffiti campaign took years, but finally, the incidence of graffiti subsided.

In another study, volunteers were asked to participate in an experiment on prison environments. Half of the volunteers posed as prison workers, while the other half posed as prison inmates. The results were astounding. Previously tested to be psychologically sound people, the participants rapidly became more and more hostile, crude, rebellious, and abusive—both those acting as inmates and as guards! One "prisoner" became so hysterical and emotionally distressed that he had to be released. The study was supposed to last two weeks, but was called off after only six days! 

Direct download: Podcast_115.mp3
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