At my work we have things that are called “norms”. A norm can best be defined as a behavior that is normal. For an example: the speed limit may say 65mph. However, the norm or the behavior that is normal, is that everyone speeds. Now much like everything in this world, there are good “norms” and bad “norms”. A norm for a neighborhood is could be that you get to high school, drop out and join a gang. Or maybe a norm for a family is that you graduate high school and go to college, even further you go to a particular college. Chances are you have norms in your family. A norm might be we have small group on Thursdays. That’s normal. A norm might be that dad always sits at one seat and mom sits in another. In short, whether we acknowledge them or not, norms are everywhere.
What happens when someone opposes a norm? Well, that’s a norms crisis as we call it at work. Someone has rocked the boat. Your son doesn’t give a crap that he would be a third generation alum at Michigan and decides to go to Ohio State. Or maybe your daughter’s boyfriend comes over for dinner and sits in your seat, he’s just rocked the boat. As grown ups we adjust to norms. We see what the crowd is doing and adjust our behaviors. Maybe you find yourself laughing at things you wouldn’t normally laugh at. Or displaying behaviors that are normal for the group and not normal for you. You are at work and notice that it’s normal to come back 15-20 minutes late for lunch. Eventually you find yourself falling into that norm.
A norms crisis that has recently been splashed all over the news and sports world is the Richie Incognito story. If you don’t know, Richie Incognito played for the Miami Dolphins and is being accused of bullying a teammate, Jonathan Martin, to the point in which Martin quit the team. What has become apparent to me and is slowly dripping out as this story unravels, is that it was a norm in the Dolphins locker room to bully teammates, to allow terrible behaviors. It was a behavior that was accepted and that it was something accepted by the majority of the team. See here is the key to norms, they have to be accepted by the group. A behavior doesn’t become normal for a group unless the group accepts it. If people stood up and said “hey guys we can’t be coming back from lunch late, it’s hurting our business” Then that would put people in a norms crisis, the group would then decide to either change their behavior or simply go back to their old ways. Either way, it would be a group decision. I honestly believe that the Dolphins locker room accepted Incognito’s behavior. They allows the norm to happen. That chances are Incognito wasn’t the only one, he was just the one that got caught.
Norms change because either the leader(s) of the group makes a change, the law steps in and makes a change or someone puts the group in a norms crisis and effects change throughout the group. Jonathan Martin got tired of the norm. The norm of being bullied, made fun of and forced to do things he didn’t want to do. He saw that the leaders of the team like Incognito, coaches and other teammates were not going to stop the norm.
Martin decided to put the team into crisis and attempt to effect change himself. He quit the team. He walked away and did what is not normal. What only a handful of people have ever done and quit on one the most lucrative careers before his career really began. The thing about norms is that they are everywhere, the other thing about norms is that you don’t always have to follow them.