If You Lead Others Will Follow

On the heels of new reports uncovering our short time window to prevent the most extreme impacts of climate change, we at Climate Dads are publishing a series of articles making the case that we hold the power to effect change. This post is republished from our friends at Crowdsourcing Sustainability.

Have you ever checked out a new TV show or app because a friend or family member was raving about it? Or tried a new kind of food because someone wouldn’t stop talking about it? Of course, we all have. Behaviors and ideas spread amongst us because we are social beings. Our brains are hardwired to want to fit in with others.

When you support certain beliefs, products, lifestyles, or causes, everyone around you unconsciously makes note of it. You become a point of reference for them. They’ll automatically ask themselves if they should be doing that thing too – especially if you are close with them.

We need to harness this power of social persuasion to address climate change.

Entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The inverse of this is also true – the people you spend time with also take on a part of you. This means that you personally contribute to the makeup of other people – who they are, how they think, and how they act.

Not only does this make intuitive sense, but there is strong research to back up how influential our way of thinking and actions are on others.

Here are several quick examples. A study out of MIT followed a network of 1.1 million runners for five years. People ran significantly farther, faster, longer, and burned more calories than they otherwise would have when they saw that their friends ran on that same day.

Harvard social scientist Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, who is a leading researcher in social networks, conducted a study and found that, “Your happiness depends not just on your choices and actions, but also on the choices and actions of people you don’t even know who are one, two and three degrees removed from you.”

Similarly, Christakis researched obesity in social networks. In his TED talk, he shows that if you have a friend who is obese you are 45% more likely to be obese yourself. If you have a friend of a friend who is obese, you’re 25% more likely to be obese, and finally, if you have a friend of a friend of a friend who is obese you’re 10% more likely to be obese.

Lastly, the Asch conformity experiment  (4 minutes of live footage – worth watching) shows us how powerful social norms are. In each trial, there was only one real subject in a group of several actors. These actors were told to give wrong answers to certain questions to see how the real subject would respond. When presented with incredibly basic, multiple choice questions, subjects gave wrong answers 37% of the time. 75% of subjects gave wrong answers at least once. Afterward, they told the researchers that they answered incorrectly for one of two reasons:

  1. They knew the right answer but answered incorrectly to fit in with the group of actors who were lying.
  2. They convinced themselves that their answer must be wrong somehow, despite not knowing why, because the group was unanimous in a different answer.

However, when the subject had a “true partner” (just one other person who deviated from the group and gave the correct answer) they gave the wrong answers just 5% of the time instead of 37%. Having just one partner made it far more okay to act differently from the majority. This study tells us two things:

  1. The behavior of groups is incredibly influential on our own behavior.
  2. There is a significant impact when just one person deviates from the norm. It gives others the confidence to follow suit who would’ve otherwise just gone along with the crowd due to the social pressures of fitting in.

These studies highlight the power of our social networks and the subtle, but huge impact we each have on others when we lead by example. Our actions are far more powerful than we realize. Pretty much everything we do influences people we’re close with as well as those we don’t even know.

So what does all this mean for climate change and sustainability?

This is fantastic news! These studies tell us that sustainability can and will start to spread rapidly once it gets going. If just one person starts acting sustainably – if you start acting sustainably others are sure to start following suit. You won’t even know all the people you influence. By being the change you wish to see, you will have an outsized impact and help to build momentum in the fight against climate change.

Crowdsourcing Sustainability, founded by Ryan Hagen, is a community of people from around the world united by the need for climate action. Whether you want to learn about climate change and sustainability, share your knowledge and stories with others, get inspired, or connect with people who share your vision of a better world, get started by connecting with Crowdsourcing Sustainability.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *