The problem with conformity.
Conformity contributes to how we feel part of a movement, a tribe, a family or any grouping of human beings. But, there is a price for this mechanism that allows us to feel part of something. That price was illustrated by Solomon Asch in his famous psychology experiment.
The Asch Experiment
The aim of the experiment was to investigate how social pressure from wanting to be part of a group leads us as humans to conform. In this case by ignoring the obvious answer so as to conform with the view of the majority.
The basic experiment used a group of people that was asked a simple question. In this case the question was “is the line drawn on this board equal to the length of line A, B or C on this other board?”. There was always an obvious answer but there was a twist. Out of the group only one member was being experimented on, the rest were all actors. The actors gave the wrong answer, for example saying the answer was line C when it was clearly A. Over the full set of trials of the test the subject conformed about 75% of the time. You can see an example of the test here in this video:
The interesting thing that was done though was to change the experiment’s parameters. A second round was undertaken where the actors all gave the answer C which was wrong except for one of them. This actor gave the answer B, which was also wrong. The result of this round showed that the person being experimented on conformed only 1% of the time, although we have to allow that they may have just got it wrong.
This shows that conformity is a powerful behavioural problem. Whether we do this out of fear of being ridiculed for being in the minority or if it is a deeper psychological influence is not important. The important thing is that it only took one divergent voice from the norm to allow others to speak more freely in support of what they personally believed to be correct. Even if it wasn’t the same answer as the other person straying from the most common answer.
The importance of hearing from every voice in the room, group, organisation or team is obvious from this. Our workshops using Lego Serious Play, Liberating Structures and Game Storming offer methods for stifling the conformity in the group and gaining maximum insights and ideas.