The herd at poolside

I’m on vacation right now (hence the recent lack of posts) but was sitting by the pool at my hotel the other day and noticed something funny – some Herd/Duncan Watts behaviour in action.

The pool attendant brought out a cart of new towels, and I watched various people come up and grab them. The first person chose a towel from the second pile from the left in the middle rack.  As you can see, almost everyone afterwards chose from the same pile. A few people changed it up by taking one from the piles immediately on either side. A brave handful chose from the piles immediately above and below – and the rest of the piles, more than half of them, remained untouched.

Even though Mark and Duncan’s arguments are very persuasive, sometimes I find the idea of trendsetters and key influencers to be hard to let go, because it makes intuitive sense and has become so ingrained in the conventional wisdom.

But all of the arguments about influencers and trendsetters kind of fall flat when I see an example as simple as this one. Was there something inherently cool about that particular pile of towels? Was there something aspirational about that first person who chose from that pile?

Two things to conclude: people just like doing the same thing that other people are doing. And I’m a geek who really should relax more on vacation.

Published by jasonoke

Global Client Leader, WPP Married to @meredithoke. I have some kids. I travel. I eat. I internet.

2 thoughts on “The herd at poolside

  1. Or…. the towels are piled so high on the other shelves, that people instinctively go the easiest route, which would be a lower pile – which leaves room for their hands to “get in there”

    PS… have a great vacation J.

  2. It is possible that this position was simply more physiologically or psychologically comfortable to take from for some reason that isn’t immediately evident?

    My problem with The Herd is that it seems to ignore a fact of our evolution. He quotes Desmond Morris’ Naked Ape but ignores its central theme: that we are predatory primates. And predatory animals have packs and leaders. Smart predators (like wild dogs) will switch up the leaders depending on the situation, objective or the position of the various players but at any time there are leaders. A hunting pack is indeed ‘super social’ but it is quite different from a herd.

    And, yes I would definitely go with the geek theory. Take a dip.

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