Don't just stand there, do something

One of my favorite memories from an off-site sales meeting was when one of our top sales people decided to "decorate" the elevator in our hotel. Art was easily the funniest person in our group and he knew how to make any meeting memorable. The accommodations were top notch.

However, for a rambunctious sales team in general and for Art in particular, the resort was more than a little stuffy.  The facility housed expensive paintings, used tasteful lighting, and everyone in the place went out of their way to give us pleasant greetings.

The employees specialized in saying "my pleasure."

Art decided a practical joke would lighten everyone up. The elevator was an easy target..

The "decoration" of choice was a three-foot-tall concrete pillar filled with large indoor plants.  It was a gorgeous planter, but if there's one universal truth with every elevator used, elevators are for "active loading and unloading only" - no planters.


And, relative to the floor space, this was an enormous planter.

At first, most of us didn't think anything about the new "passenger" on board with us.

We snickered while bellmen and guests maneuvered around the hunk of concrete. However, over the next few days we realized the absurdity of it all.

Nobody was moving this gigantic space-eater back to its proper location.

We waited and waited for the hotel employees to respond to Art's tomfoolery, but, alas, it remained the only vertically mobile planter in the state.

Four days later, on the morning that our group was checking out, the planter had FINALLY returned to its proper place.

OneTwoThreeF-O-U-R days later!

For four days guests-  hotel employees - management - bell staff - all rode the elevator and never commented on or questioned the presence of an out-of-place garden planter.

How is this possible?  Perhaps they were:

  • inattentive
  • used to extravagant behavior from the property designers
  • not responsible for that section of the hotel
  • letting their guests have fun at the expense of efficiency
  • nature lovers

I never will know the explanation for the hotel staff's behavior.   However, whatever individual explanation for inaction, it was a group failure.

In Psych 101, the experts would call this a classic case of "diffusion of responsibility."  In shorthand, that's the phenomenon of "group think" where everyone assumes that someone else will do something about the problem, so they don't have to.

Everyone who took that elevator failed to question the reasonableness of having a gigantic container garden on one of the least spacious environments in the whole resort... the elevator. Each employee let the pot stay. Each employee had some reason not to act or question something so absurd.

It's like The Ham Story in a corporate environment. Failure to question is just as ineffective as failing to act.

This is a cautionary tale.  If you see something around you that flies in the face of all logic, do something.  It may be that someone is stifling a laugh at your expense.