Imitation is part of our culture
15 May 2020
Why we walk like crabs (and tell others not to).
Do what I say
Aesop’s fable of the mother crab who instructs her child to do what she says and not what she does reveals that we humans do as others do no matter what people say.
The mother crab instructs her child to walk forward, not sideward, and the child crab wants her to show him how to do it.
Babies imitate their caregivers, no matter what the species of mammals. Chimps learn through the same pattern of imitation, and it’s natural and part of our DNA as well. We imitate each other, and especially imitate our elders. In fact, some researchers have found that the imitation is such a natural occurrence that it can cross species – species imitate each other.1“Researchers found that both species imitated to a similar extent. About 10% of the actions produced by either species was an imitation of the other species’ actions.” Science Daily 2017.
Biology trumps logic
In business, we see our work efforts as completely logical and mostly driven by results; at work we are ruled by standards of productivity and reason. We assume our actions are different than chimps or babies – we measure, set goals, determine percentages in a spreadsheet shared with colleagues. At least that’s what we think.
We do act like chimps and babies.
However, we actually do act like chimps and babies. Of course we do use logic (hopefully) and maybe our decisions are more logic there than at home, but we are far more prone to imitate others than we think.
This is especially true about our imitating people in positions of leadership, What a leader does, chooses and exemplifies resonates through the rest of the groups actions and attitudes.
Humans’ ingrained, natural habit of imitating leaders is a critical part of how well an organization performs and how happy and content the workforce is. This is one element of how leadership drives culture, and performance2“Performance” means productivity, efficiency, speed, creativity, cooperation and anything else that helps a business succeed. How well can one do without good culture?
In business – especially as managers or leaders – we have a habit of trying to dress up our decisions or wishes in a very businesslike way: PowerPoint presentations (make sure you pick the right font color), potentially clever signage sometimes meant to surprise or entertain, and the old standby of the serious executive meeting “addressing the troops” with some version of I really mean it this time sincerity.
If you are in some kind of position of leadership, take into consideration how imitation works in all groups, including your business.
It’s all just a version of the crab – and the baby crab will move like his mother.
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