Is your team living Albert Einstein’s description of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Popular adages such as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “Don’t rock the boat,” and “Let sleeping dogs lie,” all feed into the natural tendency to prefer the status quo. Time and again, research has proven that when individuals have the option of doing something new or staying with the status quo, they overwhelmingly stay with the status quo.
Feeding into the danger of always leaning toward the status quo is the fact that human beings are generally risk averse. Since departing from the status quo opens you up to risk—and, with risk, potential failure—it’s easy to understand why people are content with the status quo. Unfortunately, in some cases the status quo is the least desirable option and will potentially lead to decline. In general, the threat of a loss has a greater effect on a decision than the possibility of an equivalent gain. The response to loss is more extreme than the response to gain.
Consequently, many strategy decisions place too much weight on the potential negative outcomes because, psychologically, the displeasure associated with losing a sum of money or market share points is greater than the pleasure associated with gaining the same amount. This principle of human nature has a strong effect on strategy decisions and must be taken into account to avoid always acting in a risk-averse manner when the probability of success is actually greater.
In my business graphic novel, StrategyMan Vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad: Using Strategic Thinking to Defeat Bad Strategy and Save Your Plan, the villain that represents this issue is Status Quo-Lock.
To avoid falling into Status Quo-Lock’s grip, considering the following three techniques:
1. Focus on the outcome desired and use that as a measurement between the status quo and other alternatives.
2. Examine the actual changes that would need to be made to abandon the status quo, as the reality is often less painful than imagined.
3. Explore a range of alternatives outside the status quo to provide a full picture of the potential courses of action and their accompanying benefits.