False Uniqueness

by Ben Perreira

There is a saying that Russians use to describe the experience of sitting in traffic. It roughly translates to “I know where I’m going, but where are all these idiots going?”

In simplicity often lies profundity. This saying illuminates a social psychological phenomenon called “false uniqueness,” or the idea that we think our situation is somehow different simply because it is ours.

False uniqueness is everywhere.

It is on the supply and demand side of labor economics, for instance.

It is on the supply side because workers/ job seekers tend to think their skills are so unique that a mere thought of not getting a job/ raise is baffling. Recruiters will tell you otherwise.

It is on the demand side because many companies think their company/ industry is so unique that no outsider could be able to do the job right away. Just about anyone who has changed jobs will tell you otherwise; skills transfer relatively easily from industry to industry because the ultimate units remain constant (marketing – people, finance – interest rates and currency, etc.).

Next time you’re sitting in traffic, remember that the guy sitting behind you sees you as the first of many cars in his way, just like you feel about the guy in front of you.