The Herd Mentality


How I gave up counting Margaritas

I'm standing on the curb waiting for the walk sign. About twenty other pedestrians of varied sizes and pigmentation are patiently waiting beside me. Now there are no cars in sight and I know that if I cross now at least half of these laws abiding citizens next to me will cheerfully follow suit.

A few years back I spent a few months running a tourist restaurant. A tourist restaurant is a place where buses of tourist groups are huddled in and out, fed with mediocre food and persuaded to buy stupid souvenirs, all in less than thirty minutes.

What the hell does this have to with the herd mentality you ask politely.

Well it works like this. These restaurants are almost all self-service. The group of forty or so middle-aged teenage old age pensioners form a neat line. No matter what the first tourist orders, at least sixty per cent of the others will order the same. So on a day when we were top heavy with chicken breasts I would do everything I could to push it to the first in line. Bingo I make a killing.

The herd syndrome can help you deal with many problems throughout your life, magicians use it in card tricks, farmers use it to bring in their herd and of course politicians couldn't exist without it. It makes great business sense - If you open a new cafe you hire people to sit there to show the place is popular and others will follow. When you're abroad and there are two adjacent restaurants one empty the other overflowing, which one will you pick? You get my point.

The problem with the herd mentality is it forces you to act against your better judgment again and again. You go to a smart Mexican restaurant with friends or colleagues from work. You really only want to order a salad and diet coke. The waiter comes over and the guy next to you orders a frozen Margarita. Of course everyone follows his example including yourself. The waiter starts with you and your "I'm not really that hungry" salad. After all the others order T-bone steaks and spare ribs (I know I said Mexican restaurant but they have joined the herd too!). You have no choice but to

"Actually, now that I think of it I am a bit peckish", and get the baby ribs with onion rings and baked potatoes.

So you now feel like exploding and the waiter is back with suggestions for deserts. A unanimous no makes you feel much better though the lemon pie seemed really attractive. And then "well what about another Margarita?" You’re cornered. Two Margaritas and there's no way you can get through the afternoon will the pile of papers that need attention on your desk. Another Margarita will most surely land you under your desk for the rest of the day. But then there's Frank, nice helpful Frank, teammate Frank, Boozer Frank, and his eyes have lit up. There's no stopping him now "I'll have another frozen peach".

Of course you could chicken out, but you’re a team player, and as you'll be splitting the bill you are determined to get your money's worth.

Welcome to the herd!


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