You know you are on the right path when those who most vociferously opposed your ideas and actions begin to echo and copy them.
We live in a political and business world dedicated to making “being different” difficult. This is human nature because we humans tend to function with a herd mentality, believing consistency and compliance with existing standards is safer, easier and less threatening. People resist having “difference” introduced into the equation because it creates change that forces them out of their comfort-zone. The irony is that once this “difference” is validated as the new standard, those who at first opposed it rush to copy and accept it so they don’t feel different.
This reaction is called the “copycat syndrome.” And if you are one who seeks to be a leader or change the status quo, it is important to understand the “copycat syndrome,” because it is the best way to know if your ideas are gaining traction.
When others begin to copy your concepts or actions, it confirms that what you are doing is making a difference. It is one thing for those who support you to adopt your positions, but when those who most stridently ridiculed and opposed your ideas and actions begin to copycat them, it is a clear sign your ideas are changing the way people think and act.
Presidential Campaign is the Tool that Just Keeps Teaching
A number of recent blogs have focused on the emerging 2016 presidential campaign because the happenings in the nomination contest offer a wonderful real-time laboratory that can help us learn to be successful, better communicators and more effective leaders in our own life and career. Here we have 20-some people who seek the ultimate level of leadership in our country putting their critical thinking, leadership and communication skills (or lack thereof) out there for us to study. So far, the 2016 presidential campaign has been a learning gift that never stops giving.
This past week we have been witness to the “copycat syndrome” in full bloom. When Donald Trump announced his entrance into the race he was ridiculed by the media and ignored by the other candidates, because he was so different and outside the norm of “the accepted” model for presidential candidates.
We all know what happened after that. In very short order, Trump, as they say, “sucked the air out of the campaign.” As Trump has modestly said, “It’s has become the summer of Trump.” And he is right. Not only has his lead ballooned in all the polls, he also has come to dominate the media coverage of the campaign. I would hazard a guess that as much as 90 percent of the mainstream media coverage of the campaign has focused on Trump.
Just one example of how Trump has come to dominate and overwhelm the other candidates was on display last Wednesday when Trump and the establishment candidate Jeb Bush held simultaneous “Town Hall” meetings in New Hampshire, barely 10 miles apart. CNN, FOX News and MSNBC each carried Trump’s preceding press conference and “Town Hall” meeting (attended by about 3,000) live. Bush’s comments at his meeting (attended by about 150) occasionally flicked on the screen for, at most, 10 to 15 seconds. And no wonder. Trump’s crowd was raucous, involved, animated and enthusiastic (and arguably more newsworthy) while those attending the Bush meeting exhibited all the excitement of a group of people sitting in a dentist’s office waiting to be called into the chair for a root-canal.
The reaction of other candidates to Trump’s out-of-the-box campaign has gone from disdain to desperation. Taking note of how Trump’s different approach to the campaign and bombastic style has worked so well for him, most of the candidates have moved into copycat mode. We’ve seen Cruz, Huckabee, Rubio and Paul rush out with copycat type outlandish quotes and claims, attempting to steal some of the Trump media spotlight. Their logic seemed simple enough: if it worked for Trump, it should work for them, too. Trump was ridiculed for wanting to build a wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the country and now every other candidate is claiming they have always wanted to build a wall. Trump called for repealing application of the “natural born citizen” clause of the Constitution when it comes to children of illegal immigrants. (Something that is not legally possible without an amendment to the Constitution.) So far, seven other candidates (including Jeb Bush) have announced that this was their idea all along.
I could go on with numerous other examples, but the point is that no matter how far outside the mainstream of accepted thinking your ideas and actions may be, you will know you are on the right track when the critics and naysayers begin to fall prey to the copycat syndrome. There is another residue of the copycat syndrome. When members of the establishment begin to copy the ideas and actions of the interloper, it bestows credibility on the outlier. Trump continues to dominate the presidential campaign, not so much because of what he is saying now, but because the establishment candidates are now in copycat mode and that gives his ideas and actions credibility; making him look like a leader and giving people a license to vote for him. As evidence of this result, get a load of USA TODAY’s lead headline on August 19th : “TRUMP’S IDEAS NOT SO RADICAL.” The sub-headline was, “In GOP circles, much of immigration plan is echoed by rivals, party, voters.”
Not all Copycatting is Good Copycatting
It is important to note that when the copycat syndrome is triggered, it does not mean that the new ideas and actions are the right thing to do, but it is simply confirmation of the herd mentality of many who are afraid to be left behind. Bad things can happen when people lose the ability to think rationally and blindly copycat ideas and actions, simply because they seem to be working for others. This is one of the reasons why the idea of “peer-group comparisons” and “best practices” pose such a threat to creativity and innovation; they turn followers into copycats.
The “Great Recession” of 2008 was, in large measure, triggered by the copycat syndrome. Sub-prime lending – especially mortgages – was never an accepted practice of mainstream banks, but when a few banks began the skim the cream off the top, all the banks rushed in exhibiting herd mentality to copy what others were doing. Then, a few investment companies began to offer new product offerings such as collateralized debt obligations, mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps and soon these little understood, complex products were being copied and sold by the entire industry. We know all too well how catastrophic this form of copycatting was.
Today we are seeing the same herd mentality creating the copycat mentality in those seeking to compete with Trump to secure the Republican nomination. It is still to be determined if Trump is leading them to victory or destruction.
And the point is …
If your efforts to provide leadership or change the status quo are met with initial rejection and even ridicule, don’t be discouraged. First of all take it as a compliment, because if your ideas are not met with early resistance or viewed as a threat, they are probably not far enough outside the mainstream to make a difference.
If you remain consistent and committed to your vision, continued criticism will confirm that you are out ahead of the herd and when others begin to copycat your ideas and actions, you will know that you are making a difference. And it is making a difference that establishes you as a leader and cements your ultimate success.