The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Bystander Apathy'?

Bystander Apathy is an inverse relationship between the number of people who could take action and the number of people who actually choose to act.

Bystander Apathy explains why groups like committees never get anything done: everyone assumes someone else will step up.

The best way to eliminate Bystander Apathy in project management is to have clearly defined tasks for each individual.

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Bystander Apathy'

Growing up, I was very active in the Boy Scouts.

The standard Scout program covers First Aid, CPR, and emergency management-basic training that prepares you to handle the most common emergencies you're likely to face.

Outside of specific techniques, I remember two useful principles from this training: (1) always step up and take responsibility, unless relieved by a more experienced professional, and (2) always direct commands or requests very clearly to one specific individual at a time.

If someone appears to be experiencing a heart attack in a crowded store and you yell "someone call 911," it's likely that no one will actually call-the more people around, the more likely everyone assumes that someone else is taking action.

It's far more effective to single someone out, make eye contact, point, and say very clearly, "YOU-CALL 911." They will.

Bystander Apathy is an inverse relationship between the number of people who could take action and the number of people who actually choose to act.

The more people available, the less responsibility each member of the crowd feels to do anything about the situation.

The 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese and the 2009 shooting of Petru Barladeanu are dramatic, well-known examples of Bystander Apathy. In both cases, the victims were attacked in the presence of many bystanders, none of whom offered assistance.

There's some controversy over exactly how many people witnessed the Genovese murder, but there's no doubt about the Barlandeanu case-it was captured on video.

As Barlandeanu bled to death from a gunshot wound on the floor of a metro station, scores of people who could clearly see what was going on simply walked by.

Bystander Apathy explains why anything assigned to a committee never gets done. If you've ever worked with a group of people who have no Power over each other, you know what I'm talking about. Unless someone steps up and takes individual responsibility for actually making the topic of conversation happen, a committee can deliberate for years without getting anything done. Each member of the committee simply assumes someone else is working on it.

The best way to eliminate Bystander Apathy in project management is to ensure that all tasks have single, clear owners and deadlines.

Unless every individual on your team knows exactly what they're responsible for and when it must be done, it's very unlikely that they'll actually do it. If you're delegating responsibilities, always assign tasks to a single owner with a clear deadline.

Only then will people feel responsible enough to get things done.

Questions About 'Bystander Apathy'


"Accountability is about one person taking responsibility. If two people are accountable for the same decision, no one is really accountable."

Glyn Holton, investment risk management consultant


From Chapter 8:

Working With Others


https://personalmba.com/bystander-apathy/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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