I was eating lunch today in the park by a water fountain. It was just another sunny San Francisco day, although I was about to have a fascinating insight into some human condition.
The idle rustling of the leaves and the curious pigeon nearby was interrupted by the screaming of school children, all rushing for the water fountain.
Being a hot day combined with the generally voracious appetite of children, the line quickly grew into a impatient gathering of agitated little humans.
At first there was a line, organized naturally by the group with little oversight from the teacher. There was however, a dramatic inefficiency not only with the flow rate of water fountain itself, but the speed and volume at which the children were drinking.
As the teacher grew impatient that the line wasn’t moving fast enough, the kids themselves started to urge those drinking to ‘hurry up’. Some children took quick sips in order to maintain order, while others ignored the cries of others and kept drinking. Peculiarly, these were the loudest of the group to cite impatience for those that were ahead of them.
One even thought the water fountain was a good time to re-wet his hair after his lengthy drink, angering the crowd.
There was a relatively even behavior between age groups, ethnicity and gender, although it was clear that the young boys with the loudest clothes/haircuts (must be the coolest kids) carried a different attitude and pushed the envelope further by not drinking quickly or frugally, even when shoved.
At this point, a second group of children arrived and there was complete chaos.
The teacher decided to install a countdown system and give each student three seconds to complete their drink. This aided the efficiency considerably, particularly when two children of the group who assumed a policing role to support their teacher’s counting.
The girls on average became more compliant and took drinks that finished either before the last number or right on the dot. Some boys would meet the three second condition, but most would always try to steal another second or two, checking for their teacher’s attention out of the corner of their eye.
While there was a lot of subjectivity to my observation (including my own biases), and there was no doubt differences in levels of thirst, mouth position and button control, it was a fascinating observation of human behavior, group dynamics, social conditioning and hierarchy.
None of the teachers took a drink.
As the group dwindled down to one last student, I watched her intently. She had stood at the water fountain the entire time watching and waiting. Quietly and confidently opening her bag, she pulled out a water bottle and negotiated with the teacher that she would be ten seconds in exchange for her patient behavior – seven more more than her counterparts!
Filling her water bottle up to the brim, she caught up with her friend and offered a sip, buying immediate social currency.
Her tactical negotiation for 2.3x time yielded a 200x return in volume, a deepened relationship, and a desirable and distributable product.
If you could watch a group of people, observe their behaviors and predict their futures based on raw behavior, I first hand saw future enforcers, rule breakers, obedient followers, opportunists, and an entrepreneur.