In the last week of the year, my son and I took off down I-75 towards Tampa, Florida for a Lacrosse tournament. Just a few hours into the trip, I noticed a common trend that lasted the whole 8 hour trip. I looked over to my son and asked him to tell me what he saw. He stated “everyone is in the far left lane.” I reminded him that the far left lane is the fast lane and designated for the drivers going a little faster than everyone else. But why would almost everyone flock to the fast lane? As we moved over into the fast lane, we quickly noticed that traffic was actually slower. The cars in the other lanes were traveling faster, with the exception of a few cars that forced drivers to work their way around them. But they had two lanes to maneuver in so they didn’t have any problems getting around the slower cars. The fast lane was a different story. The only way to move forward was if someone moved out of the way. Even though we were all going slower, we were in the fast lane and drivers remained there despite our speed. Sound familiar?
So many of us do this with our career. It’s a sick version of the herd mentality. We do everything people tell us to do but only seem to get the same results most everyone else gets. That is, we are stuck in line waiting for the person ahead of us to retire, transfer, quite, get promoted or simply kill over before we get a chance to move up. “Get out of the fast lane,” my son said. “We’ll get there faster.”
Many people stay in the fast lane because it’s easy, doesn’t require any thought and you always know where you are (i.e. stuck behind the person ahead of you). It’s like being on autopilot. You’re moving but you aren’t sure if you’re getting there because you can only see taillights ahead of you. Still, it doesn’t require much effort, so we drive on.
Scientists at the University of Leeds discovered that it takes a small minority (just 5%) to influence a crowd’s direction – and that the other 95% follow without even knowing it. I know, moving over to the slower lanes would require you to make decisions constantly because there are slower cars that you will have to move around. It gets to be a lot of work moving in and out of the lanes.
Staying in the fast lane may just be your problem with achieving the success you desire. Research led by the University of Exeter has shown that individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by those around them, rather than rely on their own instinct. As the fast lane slows down, so do you. As it speeds up, you speed up. You do what they do. As a result, groups become less responsive to changes in their natural environment. Let’s say that the fast lane is full of MBA aspirants. They haven’t noticed that the corporate world is full of them already and many of them have gained no flexibility in their career by earning the MBA. It does little to improve their upward mobility. If only a few people in the fast lane aren’t paying attention to the population of MBAs in their industry, they’ll stay in their lane to earn the degree and fall into the same situation as the others. Everyone else will follow. While the fast lane population may have dreams of getting into management, the MBA isn’t the only way to get there. Get out of the fast lane.
So why do so many think the MBA is the only way to get there? Social learning may be the reason. It is likely that many aspirants are surrounded by a few people who believe it’s the answer. Of course, once you go on campus, everyone will tell you it is the answer. With so much bias towards the degree, aspirants will forego any analytical processing and go directly to the analytical response. This does happen and was proven in a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, which found that a strong social bias may very well decrease the frequency of analytical reasoning by making it easy and commonplace to accept without thinking. Well, I do remember something about us all thinking the world was flat, until that 5% of scientists convinced us it wasn’t.
What are other ways to get into management? You can always start a company or join a startup. Small companies offer the opportunity to learn more about management, since there is less of it. Outside of these options, you might find yourself waiting in line for a long time. Of course, you might occupy that time by building a nice list of credentials that you can put on your resume. Then, when somebody moves over, you can hit the gas and move into a new position. Or….you can get out of the fast lane! Some say “success is a choice.” Well…this is one of those choices.
If you’re considering taking the entrepreneurial route, let us know. We’ve got plenty of folks who can help you with your idea. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.