WHAT do fried chicken and Swedish furniture have in common?
They created a great showcase of crowd psychology among Penangites.
This happened when a Swedish furniture company opened its branch on mainland Penang, while a restaurant branch selling fried chicken on the island closed after 32 years.
When Ikea Batu Kawan opened its doors on a working Thursday, thousands obviously took the day off, leapt into their cars and rushed there even if there was no special discount.
Exactly how many people formed the horde was unknown, but Ikea announced that they wolfed down 32,000 Swedish meatballs on day one. If the average minion of the horde eats five meatballs, you do the math.
Cars were parked to the main road and caused congestion, but that did not really matter to them because getting into the largest furniture store in Penang on opening day was more important.
For your infomation, Ikea arrived in Malaysia in 1996, and has two other stores in Selangor. They have been here for 23 years and I know many Penangites with Ikea furniture at home, so that means many of them have been to the stores in Selangor.
On the same day in George Town, Penang’s oldest Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Jalan Larut was a day away from closing for good after 32 years in business.
Suddenly, thousands of people who have eaten KFC all their lives felt a huge compulsion to swarm that specific branch.
It was packed from morning to night, and people queued to the entrance door during lunch and dinner, not just to eat KFC, but to dine there.
How many of you were at these two crowd magnets and took photos to share on social media?
You did know that you could find KFC in a hundred other places nearby and Ikea was not opening for just one day right?
Studies show that we spend between 70% and 80% of our waking hours in some form of communication. On average, we spend 30% of the day speaking, and 45% listening.
We take cues from our environment, especially other people. When we perceive more people doing a certain thing, it seems worth doing.
But we must not forget our purpose in life; though we need to be together, being different builds identity and sparks creativity.
And then there is the danger of being susceptible to the contagion element of a crowd.
It is fine to be sentimental about the KFC outlet our parents took us to when we were young, and it is thrilling to meet fresh and friendly Ikea staff on opening day.
But when we are not mindful and let crowd psychology sweep us away in more delicate matters, we risk becoming part of a mob.