Are you able to become a black sheep?


We’re all member of multiple groups. Offline you are or where member of a school community. If you play sports, you part of that community. If you’re religious, you’re belong to that network. This need to belong to a group has to do with the fundamentals of our existence and results from our will to survive. It is therefore very logic that one glossophobia, or speech anxiety is always in the top 5 of people’s greatest fears. Standing out in front of the crowd makes you vulnerable. It is the collective that decides if they will agree with your ideas, with you what you say and you as person. If the crowd disagrees with you, it could have serious consequences, like being removed from the group. Like back in the days, when hunting a mammoth with a group was already an enormous challenge, imagine doing it on your own. So becoming an outcast was a direct threat to your changes of survival

Luckily nowadays we don’t have to hunt mammoth in groups to provide ourselves of food and warm clothing. However we still have the desire to be part of a collective and group have definitely there advantages. Take for example the wisdom of crowds. This means if you’d ask a group of people the guess, for example, how many skittles there are in a jar, the average of all guess is always within a percent of the correct answer! However, for this to happen, all members of the group have think be themselves what they think is the correct number. The moment it is not every individual who thinks for themselves, the effect will directly disappear. So if you’d let the group discuss among each other before they make their guess, it average is way off. This is because of an fundamental aspect of a group. Once you’re linked in a network, the network starts to shape your view and start to shape you interactions with everybody else. That is one of the things that defines what a group is. A group is not just a product of it components parts, it is something more than that. It is an emergent phenomenon. The problem is that groups are only smart of the people in them are as independent as possible. This is sort of the paradox.

Of course being able to make an educated guess is something everybody can do independently. However when it comes to your perception on whatever topic, this is less the case. Going back some years, it was our dear ancient Greek friend Aristotle who already came up with a strategy about how to influence humans. This strategy is called rhetoric. What is rhetoric? “The strategic use of symbols to convince a target audience”. One of the most challenging aspects of applying strong rhetoric, is knowing your audience. What are their needs, values and ideas. Because if you know that, you don’t need a “grande armée” to win the battle of persuasion, some subtle but precise communication significantly more effective.

Going back to the beginning, we individuals as part of groups. We’re all part of groups both off- and online, it is especially this online groups we’re in that creates a threat. Since from online groups there is lots of data available from. Data which can seem harmless on itself. However nowadays we can analyze this bulks of data. Big data, with all kinds of information. And it are companies who can apply datamining strategies to figure out what the needs and values of certain groups are and knowing that is like having the holy grail of persuasion.

So we have individuals who belong to groups. These individuals start following the norms, standards and ideas of this group. What these needs, values and ideas of groups are can be collected by analyzing available data. Therefore when a company executes a good rhetorical strategy, groups of people can be influenced into what to think, what to do or favorable for companies also, what to buy. So do you think you’re one of the white sheep, following the rest of the herd, or can you become that black sheep and withstand the crowd when you think that is needed?

(ps. If you’re interested in a world famous example of persuasion, search for Edward Bernays (1891-1995) and his accomplishments in the smoking industry)

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