The myth of the herd mentality goes this way: Since many people are responding or working together to accomplish a goal, it must be the best course of action.
But studies at the UK’s University of Leeds found this not to be the case. Researchers discovered that it takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95 per cent follow without realizing it.
However, whether a minority or majority triggers a herd response, it often isn’t the best course of action. In fact, the opposite course may be the opportune path to take.
Many investment advisers, for example, recommend against following the herd mentality. Reacting to stock market conditions like lemmings could end in disastrous results. You could lose far more than your shirt. The herd mentality is fueled by emotion. More often than not, emotional decisions aren’t fueled by sound, objective reasoning.
In fact, it’s often dangerous to rely on one approach, strategy or tactic for achieving anything in life. Flaws can be found in all popular strategies. That said, all courses of action should be considered.
A rarely considered strategy is the contrarian approach. Oversimplifying it, if the herd moves en masse and takes a course of action it believes will accomplish a goal, look for good reasons for supporting a contrary course of action. However, have sound, logical reasons for pursuing it.
Often, a contrarian approach is a smart tactic for making important career decisions. By its very nature, a well-thought-out contrarian approach defies conventional wisdom. And conventional wisdom – typically a universally shared opinion – is often flawed because its purveyors were just rehashing what others said.
The workplace is full of self-proclaimed experts. Many have written career books, which gives instant credibility. Some are successful entrepreneurs turned consultants and authors. They pretentiously reasoned that the strategies employed to make them multimillionaires ought to be universal principles of success. Big egos often result in a distorted sense of self-worth.
Popular tenets of conventional wisdom apply to job-hunting and career building. Many are myths. Here are three:
1. In weak economies, stay clear of cyclical industries or companies laying off thousands. During recessions, technology companies typically lay off thousands, significantly cutting overhead. But that doesn’t mean they stopped hiring altogether. In strong or weak economies, companies never stop hiring.
2. Job-hunting should be confined to certain times of the year. The two most popular times are around and following Labor Day and before and after New Year’s. The smart job-hunter never stops searching. Certainly, companies slow down during summer months, because many staffers take vacations. But they never stop hiring. In fact, you’re likely to score points with many employers for having the gumption and wisdom to defy conventional wisdom.
3. Job-hoppers are unfocused malcontents. Most of us still cling to old values. On one hand, we extol the rough-and-tumble virtues of the frontier – the uncertainty, individualism, and every-man-for-himself ethic – yet we still put security, certainty and conformity on a pedestal. For some of us, the one-company job remains sacrosanct. Our parents – more likely grandparents – told us it translated to a solid career; we believe it, even though corporate America has never stopped restructuring itself. Many HR professionals and company heads felt job-hoppers lacked grounding, stability, loyalty or direction.
The tables have turned. Job-hopping is more than a career-building strategy; it is a survival tactic. The best way to advance your career is by changing jobs.
And job security isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t put the prior generation’s work ethic on a pedestal. Yes, there are clear advantages to certainty, security and long-term employment. But there are limitations as well, uppermost frustration, lethargy, boredom and atrophy. Constant change, on the other hand, keeps you razor-sharp.
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