Taking advantage of the herd mentality

It is a sad truth, people go in herds. There are obviously some early adopters, but the majority of people do not want to be the first one to do something, even if it is clearly a good thing to do.

Case in point: The NFL Draft.

It has been studied and proven that the 2nd and 3rd rounds are nearly as effective as the first round when it comes to getting NFL starters and potential great players. However, the 1st rounders get paid 5x as much. A smart team will always trade their first round picks to the highest bidder in exchange for many picks in rounds 2-5. In other words, never draft in the first round. Ever.

How many teams do this despite scientific evidence that it works? Just the New England Patriots. Why can’t my team, the New York Jets, do this? The answer is the herd mentality.

The owners are the only ones who can take responsibility for such a move. These are conservative white men making the decisions. They don’t want to look foolish. So they end up doing what everyone else is doing and the Patriots keep getting a statistical edge.

Another case in the NFL is going for it on 4th down. Check out this chart:

These are statistics that show that NFL coaches are wildly conservative in their play calling. It’s not only scientifically proven, but obvious to the fans that when you are 4th and 1 at the 50 yard line that you should go for it. Yet, despite all evidence and common sense, coaches do not go for it.

How does this apply to software UX?

I often find myself arguing with people over these exact issues. People do not want to be trend setters, they do not want to be early adopters. Thankfully, startups are generally filled with early adopter types, which is why startups can more easily innovate. However, even within that crowd, skepticism is the norm.

For example: The Save Button.

There are times when a save button makes sense, but usually a save-as-you-go (Autosave) method is preferable. The system should allow undo and let the user just work. Think about how Google Docs work. You just type and it saves. However, most UX designers still think that the long form save button methodology is the way to do things.

It’s herd mentality.

The Good News.

Everyone is doing it wrong! You can be Bill Belichick if you want to. All you need to do is identify when people are all doing something BECAUSE they are all doing it. That is the litmus test. Find the herd. Then look for options. When you find something that few people do, yet is really good, you have struck gold.

Here are some of the choices I have made exactly for this reason:

  1. App metaphor in a browser (Hotkoko 1999)
  2. jQuery on the website for enhanced interactivity (Intuit, Quicken, Quickbooks, TurboTax – 2006)
  3. Drag and drop landing pages rather than boxes in a template. (Marketo 2007)
  4. Using a JS component library (Marketo 2007)
  5. Autosave (lots of examples over the years)
  6. Animations and transitions (Engagio 2016)
  7. Cartoon characters in the UI (Engagio (2016)

Anti-herd choices are valuable to you to differentiate and to gain benefits against competition. It’s worth your time. The real question is: Can you escape the herd mentality that may guide your decisions?

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