Sonder | When to make, drink & smell the Kool Aid
The horrific origin of the ‘drinking the Kool Aid’ phrase teaches us that there is a time to lead, a time to follow and a time to be cynical.
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When to make, drink & smell the Kool Aid

When to make, drink & smell the Kool Aid

Have you been drinking the Kool Aid? We hear this phrase a lot in business. Typically referring to someone espousing the values of “the corporation” a little too passionately or over-zealous leaders who have started believing their own hype. But, do you know where the phrase originates from? Here’s the shocking story:

In the Seventies Jim Jones, a self-appointed charismatic pastor created a following in San Francisco called the Peoples Temple. In time, reporters began investigating the Temple amid allegations of abuse and intimidation. Jones fled with hundreds of his followers to a jungle settlement in Guyana which he named Jonestown. In this isolated and insular environment his delusion and paranoia grew to such an extent that he had his followers practice mass suicides.

When, in 1977, Washington Post reporters entered Jonestown on a fact-finding mission. Jones ordered his followers to drink the grape-flavoured Kool Aid which was laced with cyanide. Some did voluntarily but the majority refused or tried to escape and were massacred by Jones’ deputies. Of the 1100 people in Jonestown, 918 died that day and the reporters were amongst them.

So now you know where it comes from, you might think twice about using the phrase again! However, the lesson we want people to take from this horrific story is that there is a time to lead, a time to follow and a time to be cynical.

Time to lead

  1. At the start of the journey you passionately believe in your message, your project or your idea and you want others to get behind you, to test it, to make it better, to offer an alternate solution.
  2. Sharing your new project with others. This requires some enthusiasm, some pizz-azz and some storytelling to get people on-board.

Time to follow

  1. When you have found a soulmate, a leader or an ideal which stirred your emotions and inspired you on your path.
  2. When you are shown a new way of doing something which you hadn’t thought of before and your instinct tells you there is something in it. You have rationally analysed the concept and can’t find any good reason not to follow.

Time to be cynical

  1. When the idea, message or concept is so jarring that instinctively you know something is wrong with it. But don’t just slam it, find a reason why and devise an alternative.
  2. When you have a fact or insight about a customer behaviour which renders the proposal destined to fail.

So, let’s think twice about what we are doing before we enthusiastically lead others, before we blindly follow others and before we cynically criticise others.

Smell the Kool Aid first folks.