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Who are James Wilson and George Kelling?

April 15th, 2011 by dimpledbrain

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

The 2 examples above form the theory of broken windows introduced by the 2 gentlemen some 30 years ago. What does this mean?

  1. You may observe that there is always a wave of repeated events when something occurs. For instance, when you see a car accident or a car breakdown, you can almost tell there will be more ahead. Separately, a tow truck driver once told me that he could expect to transport a few more broken down vehicles throughout the day if he gets one in the morning. And then there are days with absolutely no vehicles to tow! How strange. Or consider air plane crashes, mass shooting or street robbery cases. One newspaper report always leads to many other similar reports. Stranger still, isn’t it?
  2. From my personal observations – (a) people tend to behave differently in a road side stall vs a 5 star hotel. (If the environment doesn’t matter then theoretically speaking, people should behave indifferently). (b) compare between a posh neighbourhood vs a low class one. One can immediately tell the difference in term of cleanliness. The interesting question to ask is are they cleaner because they are posh?
  3. What can we do? Always nip it in the bud. Don’t ignore microtrends or small things that are taking place. Put out the flame while you still can.
  4. Criticism – is the broken windows theory a case of correlation (i.e. heightened attention) or causation (one thing leading to another?)

If you can’t reconcile with the broken windows theory, then just nip things that you don’t want to happen in the bud. I don’t think you will dispute that. Unless it’s a broken window.

Nip nip nip.

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