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Following the followers

Earl Nightingale was a hugely successful self-help guru in the 1950s and 1960s. His recording The Strangest Secret sold over 1 million copies. That video, in 3 parts, may be found on YouTube.

Nightingale’s Strangest Secret is that “you become what you think about.” In the videos Nightingale lays out his notion of how most of us in life (he focuses on the “working man”) take the default pathways and absorb and act on the conventional ways of proceeding with and building our lives. We tend to “follow the followers.” This old-school self-help advice has had decades of success and lots of followers, but the lesson is still valuable.

In a grim, stentorian delivery, he paints a sad picture of the missed chance to be an individual for people who follow the followers. Since the world around us is made up of people who follow the followers it’s as if everyone is just doing what everyone else is doing, simply because it’s conventional. The solution, of course, is to change what you think about, and to have your own plan and goals.

In direct parallel to this plight of the “working man,” people in organizations tend to follow the followers. Executives fall into the trap of becoming what they think about, but having limited thinking, or simply following what’s conventional in their industry or sector. What they think about is too narrow, conventional, or accidental. They take up and follow the conventional pathways, because, they’re conventional. As Nightingale points out, what a shame that is.

Don’t be that person at home or at work. It won’t help you move successfully into the future. Make questioning the status quo, and your way of thinking about your situation, a regular habit. Keep a channel open to distinct, contrary thoughts. And let exploring the future help you break the bounds of conventional thinking. You’ll be much more ready to respond to the sharp turns and down turns that we face in organizations.

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