She describes how different collective behaviours she observed at a recent Coldplay gig she attended (JayZ's hiphop bounce, (mexican) waves and a novel cameraphone wave) spread throught the audience to differing degrees.
From this, she posits that the reason why the cameraphone wave spread so far is something to do with some characteristics of the behaviour itself (that it was in some way superior the other two, less successful behaviours).
While cameraphonewave does sound fantastic and sparkly, can I suggest an alternative analysis which is nothing to do with the relative appeal of the behaviours to the audience: it doesn't have to be about the thing!
i.To paraphrase Paul Ormerod , Most [of our attempts to spread] Things Fail – it is genuinely hard to get a population to adopt any particular behaviour at the time and in the way that you want them to. This means that it is not surprising that the "failed" crowd behaviours were unsuccessful. Whether you are JayZ trying to get folk to bounce or the bloke at the end of row Z trying to start a mexican wave, it's more likely than not that the crowd won't pick up your thing. It's nothing to do with the thing or the influence of the person trying to spread their thing – it's just plain hard to get other folk to adopt anything.
ii. Alex's work has shown again and again how this failure rate is characteristic of random copying (the sort of copying we see in crowds and much popular culture today): one of the best ways to tell if you have random copying overtime is to see if you've got stochastic changes to popularity (or spread) rankings. It doesn't matter much which thing is adopted by whom – it's all on the basis of copying our peers.
iii. It's striking however how readily we adopt the post-hoc explanation of the success of one behaviour being somehow better (or fitter or whatever) than those things that failed. Nick Taleb's Black Swan makes much of this kind of thinking error and it's pretty poor science, too, to look to the winner to guide what we do next. That's why – however appealing they seem – those 100 habits of successful employees/brands/etc books are fundamentally flawed. I'm afraid, I looks like this is an example of that.
Let's be clear thought: this doesn't mean that Anna's points on fun/ease/visibility/novelty as features you should adopt if you want your behaviour to spread are always going to be irrelevant (many are shared by the other 'failed" behaviours); nor, at some level or other, is it untrue we are programmed to search for meaning and purpose; but it's just that in this case, contrary to what A's post suggests, copying and mimicry can account for all the phenomena described. Sorry.