It’s amazingly easy to lose sovereignty of the thoughts going on through your head.
In 1998, I was a new cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During the initiation training delightfully called Beast Barracks, the only reprieve we got was going to religious services. You could opt out of going, but doing so would ensure that one of your superior cadets would have ample opportunity to harass you. The choice was pretty clear: go to chapel and get some peace or opt out and get in the pushup position. (This was a pattern in the military that I always hated and made sure all of my troops got some peace, regardless of whether it was found in the chapel or playing video games with their buddies.)
On the way to the services, though, was the Beat Navy tunnel. There was a cultural practice around chanting “Beat Navy” to cadence while going through the Beat Navy tunnel. I hated that, too, because it seemed that with all the other things we should be thinking about and caring about – especially enroute to chapel – our team beating their team didn’t stack up. Fortunately, this practice was something you could opt of.
On one otherwise normal formation march to chapel, I found myself chanting “Beat Navy” with my platoon. “Found myself” here is not being used loosely – somewhere along the line, I had started doing a practice that I hated. This solidified a lot of other thoughts and observations I had, and it was the beginning of the end of my time at West Point. Charlie was quickly becoming New Cadet Gilkey entirely. It was all too 1984-ish too me. (Yes, I had read and understood 1984 in high school.)
Being Too Cool for the Herd
When people talk about herding, they often talk about the masses living a conventional life wherein they never question the rules. Few of these same people recognize that they are part of a different herd and echo chamber, with many of their thoughts and actions being more of a product of their environment than of their own originality.
Social learning is often osmotic that way. One day you wake up and find that the thought patterns and mindsets going on through your head aren’t yours. Worse yet, some of them aren’t serving you.
Finding Yourself Is A Continual Process
The only real way around this is to continually question your own beliefs and assumptions. Sometimes you’ll find that the “unconventional” thoughts you’ve ascribed to were really just a set of thoughts shared by one segment of the population – you having them doesn’t make you unconventional, they just make you the product of a different social environment. (Really, how many neck-bearded, arm-tatooed hipsters need to sit together before they realize that they’re just another in-group.)
Other times, you’ll find that common beliefs you rejected because of their ubiquity pointed to a rather useful way to orient your life. An idea being old or common says nothing about its virtue or lack thereof.
All of this is equally as true in business as it is in life. While new ideas are cool, dismissing old ones out of hand because they’re old is imbecilic. There are plenty of people having phenomenal business success, more reliably and more predictably, using common, old, and tested processes than New Economy entrepreneurs like to think. Obviously, if you don’t need a wheel, get rid of it rather than recreate it – yet there’s a reason why wheels have endured for as long as they have.
Spend enough time in an memetic echo chamber and you will find beliefs and ideas running through your head that aren’t yours, aren’t useful, and aren’t true-of-the-world. Prune them out and move on.
Start by talking to someone not in the same echo chamber.
Maria Gajewski says
I agree that so many alternative movements are just new types of conformity. My favorite are the “rebel” motor cycle riders with their identical Harley t-shirts and boots. However, freelancers, entrepreneurs and digital nomads can fall victim to group think as well. Good reminder to stay vigilant and check my beliefs to ensure that they are my own.
So this is what one does with a philosophy degree… 🙂
Such great bridging here between personal growth, societal conditioning and business success. I think that very interesting things come out of the dialectic process found in taking the essence of an idea, and mashing it together with something from a completely different system or meme. I’m thinking of the great success microfinance ala Grameen Bank and Kiva have had, starting with a very traditional model of business (banking and finance), and done in a decidedly completely new way.
The image this all brings to mind is of a goldfish in a bowl, not knowing it’s in water. But perhaps the disruption caused by adding food coloring to the water is what might allow the fish to see the water at all. (I know, giving too much credit to goldfish, but I resemble this!)
Thanks for the thought provocations…and the invitation to pull the weeds and cut the dead wood.