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Business Bystander Effect

On March 13, 1964 Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered near her apartment complex in Queens, New York. She was an ordinary girl. The stabbing was not extraordinary for NYC in the mid-60’s either. What shocked the nation was that 38 people witnessed the happenings and no one called the cops until thirty-five minutes after the assault began. How is it possible that 38 people allowed an innocent 28-year old woman get killed and did nothing? How can this be? What’s wrong with these people?

What does this have to do with business and entrepreneurship?

A single person will typically intervene if another person is in need of help. However, when more than one person witnesses a situation in which their help is needed, there is lesser likelihood of intervention. In some instances, a large group of bystanders may fail to help a person who obviously needs help. This is known as the bystander effect, where each individual experiences the diffusion of responsibility and simply chooses not to act.

What does this have to do with business and entrepreneurship?

The more people we have working with and for us in our ventures, the more likely we may experience the business bystander effect. You’ve been a part of this phenomenon, I am sure.

I am bystanding now. There’s an email in my in-box asking for volunteers to lead the next teleconference. I am not that into it. Apparen’tly, neither is anyone else. It continues to sit in my in-box, waiting for someone to respond. Had the email been directed only to me, it would certainly not have taken me a week to respond.

I spoke in a company a month ago where I saw a white elephant in the room. Everyone else saw it. In fact, they’ve been seeing it for a long time. Yet no one talks about it and no one does anything. It’s too big. The responsibility is massive. Yet someone needs to make that phone call. Someone needs to own the white elephant. Someone, anyone, help!

** How is bystander effect playing out in your business?
** How can each project be conceived with each member taking full ownership of his/her part?
** How can your company structure be designed with the bystander effect in mind?

I want to know…


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