Complexity based interventions and the role of peer pressure

Posted by Shawn Callahan - March 8, 2009
Filed in Anecdotes

A few weeks ago my youngest daughter was kidnapped by her school bus driver. Actually it wasn’t just my daughter, it was every child on the bus that day.

It all started a few weeks before the kidnapping. Every day on the way home from school the bus would reach the first stop and one of the boys would ring the bell to get off. The bus would stop but no one got off. And every time this happened the bus driver would admonish the kids. His frustrations grew. The last time it happened before the kidnapping he cracked it and warned everyone on the bus that if it happened again he would lock the doors and not stop until he got to the end of the route–in some cases that meant the kids would be miles away from their homes.

Well, you know what happens. On that fateful day one of the boys rings the bell, no one gets off and the driver locks the doors and keeps driving. About half way to the end of the bus route, and many stops after my daughter’s normal departure point, a mother was driving to the bus stop to pick up her child and noticed the wayward bus with her son in it. Starsky and Hutch style she cuts off the bus at the lights and the kids are released.

I was furious and rang the bus company, like all the other parents who had children on that bus, and spoke to the general manager, who apologised profusely and quite frankly said all the right things. Then I got thinking, how might one deal with this sort of situation using an intervention design approach like I use in organisation to help change behaviours. Obviously just yelling at the kids wasn’t working so I thought, how about the silent treatment. What if the bus driver said to the kids that if the bell was rung and no one got off he would sit there for 10 minutes–calmly and quietly. Now this is where peer pressure comes into play. Ten minutes seems like an eternity to a kid and kids want to get home for afternoon tea (I did anyway). So after a while the kids would work it out for themselves and put pressure on the bell ringer to cut it out.

So I rang up the general manager again and told him my suggestion. He listened then told me all the reasons why this wouldn’t work. Of course why would he take my advice? He doesn’t know me, I’m not like him and as Nancy Dixon and Tom Gilmore describe in a recent post, I haven’t earned the right to provide help.

About Shawn Callahan
Shawn is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

3 Responses to “Complexity based interventions and the role of peer pressure”

  1. rene schoenmakers Says:

    A similar thing happened in the Netherlands, just a few weeks ago. It was not a schoolbus, but a normal public bus and some annoying teenagers rang the bell, but no one left the bus when it stopped. After this happened a few times, the bus driver drove to the nearest police station and asked the police officers to take the teenagers into custoday. They had to stay there for some time and were released a few hours later. If they stopped being a pain in the …, that was not told.

  2. Shawn Callahan Says:

    n our case the bus driver was unable to identify the culprits and no one was going to give them up. In the end they had a teacher ride on the bus every afternoon. Seems like overkill to me.

  3. John Lampard Says:

    I know of some (private) school buses that have “regular” passengers and the driver knows where everyone lives so the bell is seldom required. Maybe the driver could be given a list of designated stops to make.