Broken Windows

I am not the most sophisticated of critical thinkers. In fact, I prefer to keep things relatively simple. That said, I did recently read Malcom Gladwell’s book, Tipping Points , and have been fascinated by his description of Broken Windows. The reason this is fascinating to me is not because I believe it’s a solid criminology theory such as it was introduced in 1982. No, I find it interesting because on the very surface it makes a lot of sense when it comes to basic leadership in industry. Allow me to explain.

First, what is the Broken Window theory? In Gladwell’s’ book he describes crime in the New York subway system, specifically graffiti, not being dealt with as a precursor to larger more significant acts of crime. Another example is fare breaking (sneaking under the entry system as opposed to buying a ticket) leading to larger more violent crime. According to Gladwell, the appointment of a new police commissioner and cracking down on these specific items, helped police get control and tip the scale on reduction of crime. The idea is that small problems, left unattended, lead to larger problems. I personally know this to be a fact from my experience in industry over the past 15 years. No description I provide will be nearly as clear as Gladwell himself, therefore, you can find the chapter here and I encourage you to read it (

That said, to some degree my experience assisting with fixing leadership issues inside the industrial setting (Nuclear Plants, Refinery & Chemical Plants, Oil Fields, etc.) all center around this Broken Window idea. Event though, I did not realize we were applying this concept until recently (a good example of why continuous reading & learning makes a difference). For years now, we have been demonstrating incredible success in changing behavior, especially safety performance, by insisting leaders fix small issues, on a large scale, by holding them accountable and tracking the data. We call it leadership engagement and we accomplish it by tracking leading indicators, by name, and reporting them publically each month. But, the magic doesn’t happen without a consistent approach to addressing those leaders who fail to participate.

Imagine a side walk clear of debris and trash. Perfectly clean and well kept, is it likely that someone would just toss trash on the ground? Perhaps. However, now imagine a street that has lots of trash and appears to never be clean. Which street is it likely the average person, someone not known for littering, would be more likely to discard trash outside of a trash can on? Does his/her environment influence behavior?

Most of us, regardless of where we live, have a less than thriving area downtown that has long been abandoned for the most part. Are there buildings there with broken windows all along the road way? Now, imagine yourself as a kid. Are you more likely to toss a rock through those windows or the ones in the new building downtown where none are broken and people are watching? You get the idea.

Call to Action:

1. Put Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Points on your reading list.

2. In the meantime, read the article in the link I’ve provided within about Broken Windows and The Power of Context by Gladwell.

3. Write back. Where else do Broken Windows lead to larger issues in our lives when it comes to leadership?

#GeauxLeadership #Leadership #BrokenWindows

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