What the Stanford Prison Experiment means for your Business.

The Stanford Prison Experiment has shown how quickly a persons mindset adjusts to their context and prescribed social roles. It has a significant implication for how you build or restructure teams in a business context too. Essentially, the person you hire will behave a certain way up until the point that they start work. But once they are in your business, they will be massively influenced, and may display entirely new behaviours as a result of the existing business culture.

It’s an easy concept to understand. Quite informative if you are able to influence a culture top down. An informative view to help adjust your hiring strategy. But pretty challenging to resolve if you find yourself hired into an environment where you cannot exert any significant influence on the culture. The challenge then is to understand what can be done get people to snap out of cruel or self serving behaviour, and move into positive productivity. Instigating this from within an organisation will require some skill, and amazing influence. I wonder if perhaps there are some social levers or short-cuts that will enable this change to occur bottom up?

Viktor Frankl’s book, Man in Search of Meaning( man in search of meaning viktor frankl pdf )provides an interesting perspective to counter this institutional momentum. At it’s core, his message contains profound examples to demonstrate how “you always have a choice”. You can choose how to behave. Even in the face of horror, some individuals find what they need within themselves, and choose to behave in a positive way. Perhaps this is a way to begin.

In the summer of 1971, I created a research project focusing on the psychological effects of prison life, for both the prisoners themselves and the prison guards. My research team and I reproduced a prison environment in a Stanford University basement. We tried to recreate essential features of American prisons in our jail setting. We advertised for volunteers, and assembled a group of 24 healthy, intelligent male college students from all over the nation. A flip of the coin randomly determined which 12 would be guards and which 12 would be prisoners. I took the role of Prison Superintendent, one assistant was the Warden, and two others were Lieutenants. Prisoners lived in this jail 24/7, while guards worked eight-hour shifts in what was to be a two-week intense simulation, where everything and everyone was under observation. The simple premise was to understand what happens when you put only good people in a bad situation.

In short order, the students disappeared into their roles as Prisoners or Guards.

Ordinary guys slipped into doing extraordinarily bad things to other guys — who were actually students just like them, in different costumes.

Full article here: https://medium.com/@pphilipzimbardo/the-stanford-prison-experiment-7a82dcd33492


Grant Cleveland

Grant is Start-up investor, advisor, mentor focussing on very early stage ventures. Particularly interested in start-ups and founders who are using tech to have a positive impact on the world.


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