Why the human tendency to follow orders blindly from an authority can have disastrous results
23-Sep-2015 •Mohammed Ekramul Haque
What is it? This is the human tendency to follow orders blindly from an authority, even in the cases when the authority could be wrong.
A wrong authority figure, if followed, can cause untold misery. That's what happened when Hitler took over Germany. Many officers that were tried post-war claimed immunity because they were only following orders. Of course, that didn't convince the judges and most of the convicted offenders were executed.
Why are we so susceptible to following orders? It has to do with our culture and the way humans has formed societies. "Living in dominance hierarchies as he does, like all his ancestors before him, man was born mostly to follow leaders, with only a few people doing the leading. And so, human society is formally organized into dominance hierarchies, with their culture augmenting the natural follow-the-leader tendency of man."
Often found in: Instances of subordination
American social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the now famous Milgram experiments that demonstrated the power of the authority-misinfluence tendency. Says Munger, "One clever psychology professor, Stanley Milgram, decided to do an experiment to determine exactly how far authority figures could lead ordinary people into gross misbehavior. In this experiment, a man posing as an authority figure, namely a professor governing a respectable experiment, was able to trick a great many ordinary people into giving what they had every reason to believe were massive electric shocks that inflicted heavy torture on innocent fellow citizens. This experiment did demonstrate a terrible result contributed to by the authority-misinfluence tendency."
In corporations: Many corporations suffer from this tendency when the top boss may be completely wrong but his subordinates fear telling him about his mistakes. Says Munger, "So strong is undue respect for authority that this CEO, and many even worse examples, have actually been allowed to remain in control of important business institutions for long periods after it was clear they should be removed. The obvious implication: Be careful whom you appoint to power because a dominant authority figure will often be hard to remove, aided as he will be by the authority-misinfluence tendency."
You just read about one of the misjudgements people generally make while investing. Read 25 ways to (Not) make mistakes to get an account of Charlie Munger's twenty-five typical misjudgements, along with our commentary on how they fit into Indian businesses and Indian investments.