Once there were these two crows. They were just hanging out, minding their own business, waiting for some free food. They had recently noticed that a new set of vending machines had opened up next to the entrance to a mall, and next to the vending machines was a set of trashcans. The crows had noticed that this was a potential good source of free food, as the trashcans next to the vending machines aren’t emptied nearly as often as other trashcans.
Of course, the crows had no idea of the trash-emptying schedule, they just knew that those colorful boxes sometimes were a good place to hang out and find some decent scraps of food. So when they saw a couple of these new shiny boxes, they figured they’d better hang out and get some good stuff. Usually when crows find a source of food, the first crow to get there generally has dibs. He or she can lose their place in line, should another crow come in and challenge their dominance. If the food is plentiful, like a giant cornfield, they usually don’t worry about things like that.
But when it’s a couple of vending machines in the middle of an otherwise barren (from a crows persepctive) parking lot, then it’s important to get there and establish yourself.
Of course, this strategy can backfire. Once a couple of crows thought they were being clever, and stuck out a claim next do a single vending machine next to a bowling ally, only to discover (after about a weeks worth of closely guarding their new source) that it was only a drinking vending machine, and didn’t produce anything to eat whatsoever. So there’s a fine line between waiting to see if there really is going to be some food, and showing up too late only to find somebody has already made a claim.
Commitment is an interesting thing, even from a human perspective. Everybody wants to get the best they can, but when you make a commitment to anything, a job, a person, a route to work, you are effectively cutting of all other options. If you choose too hastily, you will probably won’t make the best choice. If you take too long to decide, then you might miss out on a lot of good choices.
If you’ve ever played any kind of contact, or semi contact sport, like hockey, basketball, football, a great skill to have is to be able to fake out your opponent, getting them to commit to a particular course of action, and then change course yourself, effectively evading them. On the flip side, being able to read your pursuer, and not be taken in by their sleights a great skill to have as well.
Much has been written from a military strategy standpoint, all the way back to Sun Tzu’s “The Art Of War” detailing many strategies of how to get your enemy to commit to a particular course of action, (chosen of course by you) so you can more easily strike and destroy them.
A classic example is the Allied invasion of Normandy. Several “fake” landing craft were sent out, in order to fool the Nazis into thinking the invasion was happening someplace, else, so they would incorrectly commit their resources, effectively leaving them open to where the actual invasion was going to take place. It was a successful plot that was instrumental (not the only one by a long shot) in the defeat of the Nazis.
Committing to a decision can sometimes have unintended effects, especially when making personal choices about how we choose to live our lives. Many times, people commit to something, thinking they will get a certain result, but when the results don’t show up, people can tend to “change” their original intent, so as not to “waste” their efforts. Even when it is obvious that aren’t going to succeed in a particular endeavor (according to your original intention) many of us plod along anyways, not willing to admit that we’ve wasted all that time and effort.
In “The Peter Principle,” Laurence J. Peter asks why people continue to put effort into something that is obviously unsuccessful. Most people will give the argument “I’ve been doing this for ten years, I’m not about to quit now.” Peter asks “why continue to do something when you have ample evidence that it doesn’t work?”
Of course, this is tough to do. As pointed out by Cialdini in “Influence, Science and Practice,” commitment and consistency is a powerful motivating force in human decision-making. We tend to do things the way we’ve always done them, so long as they haven’t killed us. This tendency has been shown time and time again in various social experiments and studies. It can be extremely tough to change course after doing the same thing day in and day out year after year.
One alternative is to take a step up on the logical ladder. You can still stay committed to the underlying intent without being committed to the actions that you initially thought you would get you to that underlying intent.
Somebody may choose to change diets, if one particular diet isn’t working out, provided that they are still committed and focused on losing weight. In NLP, it’s taught that it’s usually a good idea to have less investment in any particular method, while having a solid understanding of your underlying goals. More flexibility is always preferred when deciding how you want to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. If whatever you thought was going to get you there isn’t working out, you can always change strategies midway, while keeping your focus on your original goals. That way you’ll never fall into the “I’ve been doing this for X years, I’m not about to change now,” trap.
So the crows decided that they’d wait three days, and if they didn’t see any good food being thrown in the garbage, they’d go someplace else. They had enlisted the help of a couple buddies, so there were six of them in all. They figured two of them would stand guard at any given time, to establish their claim. The other two would go to other food sources in the meantime.
What the crows discovered was a virtual food goldmine, although it was completely unexpected. The vending machines happened to be set up just around the corner from the big dumpsters that all the restaurants in the mall were supposed to throw their food out into. When the crows noticed how much food was being thrown out, their small group swelled in numbers immediately, and they never went hungry again.