Are we in control of our own decisions? Or is there a link between your environment and the decisions you make.

Are the clothes you buy and wear linked to what people around you wear? Is the business you start and how you start it linked to the regulations around you, the customer tastes and their behaviours?

How does changing my environment impact my life decisions?

Our decisions are influenced by many factors. We may or may not be aware of them. Whether a decision was rational or irrational is measured on the basis of success. If you meet success your decision was correct and if it meet failure your decision was irrational.

We tend to think that we are responsible for our decisions, but to a large extend our environment shapes and is responsible for the decisions we make.

The broken windows theory is the idea that serious and violent crime can be reduced in an urban area through the strict enforcement of lesser crimes such as graffiti, and vandalism.

The theory says if a broken window to a building is not fixed within a few days, it means there is no one staying in that building and that no one really cares about that building. This then results in more windows being broken, vandalism, graffiti and illegal occupation.

What started as a single broken window over time results in that building attracting crime. Something as small as fixing a broken window would prevent the escalation of damage to the building and may prevent crime.

At the core of this is that conformity is the idea that people tend to do what others around them are doing. Someone walking down the street eating a hamburger, for example, is less likely to throw the litter in a rubbish bin if the pavement is already trashed with hamburger wrappers from other people who have chosen to litter.

An area clean from litter indicates to a person that there are rules against littering and that they are followed, monitored and enforced. 

Driving in the township is different from driving in the suburbs. Even though the rules of the road are the same, if you strictly stick to the rules of the road in one specific area, you might cause an accident. The environment dictates how we drive in certain areas and affects the decisions of how to drive.

One of the big debate is how bribery is treated in certain countries. Bribery is acceptable in certain countries and unacceptable in others. The environment affects the decisions  of how to do business.

Dan Ariely says “We tend to compare ourselves with our surroundings, and our happiness stems directly from those comparisons. If the people around us drive Hondas, we feel good in a Honda; if those around us drive Audis, our old Honda will make us cringe.” The environment affects the things we buy.

We do certain things due to our surroundings. Change your surroundings, change your decisions, change your life.

A country with a high entrepreneurial culture tends to breed more entrepreneurs. A country with a high culture of dependency tends to breed more dependency.

Choose your environment very carefully because it has the potential to either hold you back or push you to success.

If you are a startup, something as small as spending time with other entrepreneurs in an incubator type environment exposes you to thought leader entrepreneurs and may increase your chances of success.

To a large extent, you are a product of your environment. Does your place of work bring the best out of you, is the environment taking you to where you want to go.

Consider a business with a few under-performing people. If the people are not supported and not understanding of the strategy and vision, the tendency is for others to start to under-perform as well. Eventually, this will impact your service and business performance, and if it is neglected, perhaps clients become uncommitted to you. The environment affects how people perform. As a leader create an environment that fixes the broken window immediately.

My mentor Mike Ngila Muendane when he talks about habits uses the analogy that: it all starts as a drop, then another drop, and over time those drops accumulate to become an ocean.

A small thing that happens in your business may have a big impact. Don’t let a “broken window” lead to a broken business, and broken people.

Fix the broken window. Heredity nothing, environment everything.

Ps: Malcolm Gladwell wrote exensively on Broken Windows Theory in his book Tipping Point.


One thought on “Associations: Broken Window Theory

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