What’s keeping you from taking action? Maybe things in your business aren’t great, but they might not be too bad either. Perhaps sales are flat or growth has just leveled off. You’d like things to be better, but for some reason you haven’t done anything substantial about it. Welcome to the status quo, a land where mediocrity rules and where once great businesses go to die. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but the status quo is a powerful anchor in the human mind. It keeps us from making decisions when we perceive risks in taking action. The problem is, inaction has risks too.
An article in McKinsey Quarterly entitled: Hidden Flaws in Strategy1, by Charles Roxburgh discusses 8 common flaws managers make with respect to strategy. In the article, Roxburgh discusses how the status quo affects decision-making, and the resulting impact on strategy. I’ve found that one of the most insidious affects of this bias, is that it keeps organizations (and communities) from adapting to a changing world. When your environment changes you must adapt to compete and thrive. So how do we break ourselves out of the status quo?
Tim Riesterer wrote a blog post on HBR.org called Stimulate Your Customer’s Lizard Brain to Make a Sale2, that may offer some insight. Maybe we need to stimulate our own lizard brain, the part of our brain that senses danger. There is certainly danger in doing nothing to adapt to competition. The problem is, that danger may not feel real yet. How do we tap into this instinct to drive action within ourselves? Humans respond to urgency, its our nature. To take advantage of this fact, we need to increase the urgency of the needed change to enhance our ability to take action now.
Here’s the trick, once we’ve created urgency for seeking a change we must build our motivation by asking what positive outcomes will come from taking action and why those outcomes are important to us.3 Only by building the whys can we convince ourselves of the positive reasons for change. The contrast of this positive future versus the urgency and danger of the status quo is what can produce the activation energy needed to break our inertia.
1. Charles Roxburgh, “Hidden Flaws in Strategy: Can insights from behavioral economics explain why good executives back bad strategies?” McKinsey Quarterly, (May 2003), https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Strategy/Strategic_Thinking/Hidden_flaws_in_strategy_1288, accessed August 2012.
2. Tim Riesterer, “Stimulate Your Customer’s Lizard Brain to Make a Sale,” HBR Blog Network (blog),July 31, 2012, http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/07/stimulate_your_customers_lizar.html, accessed August 2012.
3. Michael V. Pantalon, Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything – FAST (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2011).