Mark Earls

Global Inspiration Day: The Herdmeister

We’re all herd animals. In our current age, where the individual is king and people are prized for being different and making independent choices, we like to forget this. But the fact is, our herd behaviour influences our lives much more than we can even begin to imagine.

Mark Earls, aka the Herdmeister (@herdmeister), has incredible insight into what makes us tick, and brought a bag full of games plus a fountain of insight to our Inspiration Day session last Friday.

After getting us all on our largely hungover feet, Mark asked us to arrange ourselves in order of size, without speaking to each other. What we found was that speaking wasn’t actually necessary to achieve this task, and neither was thinking – You kinda just do it.
The same went for arrangements in order of amount of hair and age. Our brains and bodies do it all by themselves, without us ever consciously thinking about it.

According to our speaker, the ‘do-think-order’ is something humans really struggle with. And it’s true. How many people have problems with over-thinking things, or not thinking enough, being too impulsive?

Our next game arrived in the form of a little challenge. Find a partner, grab them around the wrists and try to lift them off the floor with both feet. Sounds simple enough – but how in the world to do it?
Then a curious thing happened: A couple of pairs decided to solve the task by jumping up and down; and in a matter of seconds the whole room was jumping. Save one pair, who wrestled each other to the ground instead (which was, to be fair, my first thought too!)

So, do we constantly just copy other people? Is there nothing unique and original about us and the way we behave? The trouble today is perhaps that copying has a notorioiusly bad rep. It’s not cool, it’s seen as weak and unimaginative. It’s particularly not what leader-types do. In truth, copying it is a completely natural and absolutely vital part of human nature. Everything we learn is in part copying elders and other people around us.

So how come we’re not all completely the same and live in a homogenous brew of behavioural clones? Mark answered this question with his next game. He got half of the group to stand in a line with our backs to each other. The person at one end of the line was shown three gestures that they then had to reveal to the next person, and so on. (kind of like Chinese Whispers – but with gestures)
And, surprise surprise, what was delivered throughout the line not only changed multiple times, but also arrived at the other end as something barely recognizable as the original three gestures.
So there we have it: copying creates new things, different things and marks us out as individuals. Hallelujah – we can rest easy.

What we can take away from this talk is that we know ourselves a lot less well than we think we do. That our behaviour is influenced by a great many things that we don’t even realise. And that, in the end, that’s fine. Because overthinking things is neither wise, nor necessary.

A wise man, this Herdmeister.

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