Screenshot 2016-07-19 18.57.32
Being the Oddball Sucks
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Could you stand by a “wrong” answer?

Let’s pretend you’re in a room with 10 people about your age and background. You’ve been talking for a while, and you’ve gotten to know the others. Then the task begins. It’s straightforward.

On a large TV, you see a line drawing of a face. The instructor calls out people by name and asks if the face is a happy face, a sad face, or neutral face.

The first image looks like this:

happiness

The instructor calls on a very attractive woman you’d been talking to most of the night, Amy. Amy doesn’t hesitate. “Sad,” she says.

Your opinion of Angela drops. A lot.

Then the instructor calls on Dave who you knew from your kids’ baseball team even before tonight. “He looks sad to me,” Dave says.

Wow. These two should get together, you think. And not have kids.

Next, is Barry, a business school marketing professor. “Yeah, that’s sad,” Barry says. You make a note not to send your kids to his crappy school.

Then, she calls on a woman sitting behind you. You don’t know her, but she looks like an elementary school teacher from the 1950s. You put all your faith into this woman to get it right.

“Oh, sad, yes,” she says.

You realize that you are likely the only person in the room who interprets the image as a happy. You wonder if, maybe, they’re seeing something you’re not? Were they primed with an even happier face that you didn’t see, one that makes this one sad by comparison?

Now the instructor calls your name. You notice every eye in the room trained on you as if you were the approaching bus they’ve been waiting for.

Do you say, “that’s the happiest damn face I’ve ever seen, and you people are all nuts,” insulting all the other people, or do you go along with your idiot mates and agree that the face is sad?

Standing Alone Hurts

In the scenario above, your classmates were confederates of the instructor. They were actors playing people who thought that image represented sadness. The goal of the test was to see how you would respond when it came to your turn.

Most people have no idea how difficult it is to be the only person who disagrees. In psychological studies, intelligent students who know better will agree to the wrong answer if four other students before them gave the wrong answer first. “It appears that when we are unsure of how to perform a task or how to behave, we may take comfort in agreeing with a large number of other people (Lumbert, Samantha P., 2005).”We’d rather be wrong than be seen as wrong. And fMRI studies of the brain show that the pain of being the outcast is similar to severe physical pain. It’s why we give in to peer pressure.

Trump Stands Alone

At the first Republican debate in August, all the players were real. There were no confederates.

Bret Baier of Fox News asked the 15 candidates to raise their hands if they would NOT promise to support the Republican candidate for President. If you are trying to win over Republicans, there is only one right answer: you keep your hands at your sides.

On August 6, 2015, 14 candidates had a knee-jerk reaction to a softball question: raise your hand if you might not support the eventual Republican nominee. Each of those men (and they were all men that night) did quick math. They all believed they would win and if they didn’t, someone like them would win. Because that’s what we always think–if not me, someone like me. So they kept their hands down.

One man thought different. That man realized he might not win and the person who does win might be very different from him. Too different. In fact, being a strategic thinker, this man realized that if he did not win, the winner was likely to be very different from him. And despite the pain of being the outcast, Donald Trump raised his hand. Alone.

Later, after he had time to thnk about it, Trump signed the pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, so help him, God. So did all the others. But Trump was the only one who took the time to contemplate the commitment. He didn’t make a rash, impulsive decision, did he? He made his decision like a man who’s made a lot of big decisions. And like a leader who’s comfortable with being seen as wrong. And he suffered the pain of being the outcast for weeks.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Mr. Trump contemplated his commitment. Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Jeb! Bush, and Marco Rubio impulsively signed the pledge without considering the consequences, and now they wish they hadn’t. Now they’d all like to be like Trump.

Leaders Must Stand Alone

When it comes to being presidential, the sin Cruz, Kasich, Bush, and Rubio committed was not the sin of breaking their word to the Republican Party, it was the sin of rushing into a commitment without thinking about the consequences. (For the lawyers among them, that sin was mortal.) It was the sin of avoiding immediate discomfort. Each of those four men later chose to break his word, which is also painful, but less painful than breaking his identity claim.

That sin of Cruz, Kasich, Bush, and Rubio is in the past. It can’t be undone. Endorsing Mr. Trump now will not erase the rash the fact that they made rash decisions in August.

When is comes to executive skills, Trump beat them all. Hands down.

P.S. In a related psychological study, researchers tested groups in several age groups. They found that older adults were more likely to answer accurately even if doing so violated the norms of their group (Lumbert, 2005). Maybe Donald Trump was the only candidate old enough to give the right answer instead of the easy answer. In other words, the others might become better leaders and better decision makers over time. See this for more on these fascinating studies.

Source: Lumbert, Samantha P., 2005, Conformity and Group Mentality: Why We Comply, Rochester Institute of Technology


Also published on Medium.

  • cheffian

    Trump rescinded his pledge to support the nominee back in March 2016. The poor baby believed, “I have been treated very unfairly.” I know you’re a full-bore Trump supporter, but this piece is disingenuous and not the first one. I’ll unsubscribe myself.

    • whennessy

      You know that’s not true. Trump’s pledge was never tested. We’ll never know if he would honor because he won. But in March, Cruz reaffirmed his commitment to the pledge. Yet he broke it.

      Is it worse to threaten to break a contract or to actually break it?

  • Van Harvey

    I spent the 1980’s in a travelling rock band on the Left Coast – and supported & voted for Reagan. Being the odd one out isn’t an issue.

    • whennessy

      For you. The research shows that some people are less sensitive to social proof. And people who are resilient to social proof tend to either succeed wildly or fail miserably. You are clearly the former. Most people, though, struggle with being the oddball.

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