Several years ago, Michael Mauboussion wrote a good book titled, "Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counter-intuition." At one point, he describes an experiment by Adrian North, David Hargreaves, and Jennifer McKendrik regarding the sale of wine in supermarkets. Researchers examined whether consumers would choose a French or German wine, when the products were placed next to each other on the shelves. In some weeks, French music played in the aisle. In other weeks, German music played. Consumers said that the music did remind them of the associated country, but they said that the music had no impact on their buying decision. However, they were completely wrong! Consumers bought French wine 77% of the time when French music played. However, when German music played, they bought German wine 73% of the time.
What's the lesson here? Our environment really does shape our behavior, and we often underestimate how much the situation/environment influences us. It's very easy for us to believe that we would have behaved differently than others or made a different decision than the flawed choice they made in a particular circumstance. Yet, what would have happened to us given those same situational factors they faced? When I teach a case on the Columbia space shuttle accident, many students and executives often indicate that they would have behaved differently than the engineers there. They claim that they would have spoken up more forcefully about the dangers of the foam strike and the need for more investigation. Would they really have behaved differently? It's easy for us to say that we would act differently, but are we recognizing and admitting how much environment, culture, and situation shapes our actions?