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Why doing nothing may sometimes be the best action of all

Why doing nothing may sometimes be the best action of all

Fresh research suggests our bias for action is emotional, not rational.

    An article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times “Business Day” section on March 1st, reporting on a study made by economist Ofer H. Azar at Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel, adds another dimension to the topic of the last article I wrote for Lifehack.org.

    In what I wrote then, I wondered whether our culture’s emphasis on getting things done — preferring action over time for thought or waiting to allow events to unfold further — was anything more than fashion. Now, it seems, there’s evidence that this tendency to want to do something is neither as practical, nor as rational, as you may think.

    How people make high-stakes decisions

    Mr. Azar is interested in a topic much in vogue with contemporary economists: how investors make high-stakes decisions. In classical economics, people are assumed to make rational, independent choices based on self-interest. It’s an assumption that makes for neatness, but it appears to be wide of the mark.

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    Rather than construct some artificial experiment, Azar decided to study professional soccer goalkeepers and how they deal with the toughest, highest-stakes decision they are forced to make on a regular basis: how to act to stop a penalty kick at goal.

    Faced with a player sending the ball towards them at 80 m.p.h. or more, the goalkeeper has only a fraction of a second to decide how to block the shot. It’s a fearful challenge: 4 out of 5 penalty kicks score a goal.

    By analyzing data on more than 300 kicks, the researchers calculated the action most likely to prevent a goal being scored. Surprisingly, it is standing in the center of the goal and doing nothing until the trajectory of the ball can be seen. This resulted in a 1 in 3 success rate — far higher than the average.

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    Yet goalkeepers almost never act in this way. They typically try to guess the ball’s direction before the player’s foot has actually made contact with it, diving left or right to try to be in the right spot when the ball arrives. Neither is a good option. Diving left resulted in success 14% of the time; diving right only 12.6%.

    Why then is it so common to act in a way that is even less successful than the average?

    Fearing censure more than failure

    The researchers suggest that the answer lies in the goalkeepers’ emotions and the response they meet from others after failing. By taking action — even if it’s neither rational nor likely to be successful — they can at least be seen to have done something.

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    If they stand and wait until the ball is kicked and then fail to stop it, they feel worse because of their inaction; and others are far more likely to criticize them for not appearing even to try. It’s better to try a poor action than try a better — but seemingly passive — response if both fail; even though the “inactive” response is more rational and based on a better likelihood of success.

    Others value action, even when it’s wrong

    In today’s business world, action is preferred over the alternatives and is more likely to result in forgiveness when a mistake is made. You can always say that you tried. The person who does nothing is doubly damned: once for the mistake and again for not “doing something.”

    This urge to action — to get things done — is more emotional than rational. “Wait and see” risks your credibility and reputation, even where it can be shown to be the optimal course.

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    “Wait and see” may serve you better than anything you can do right away

    Few, if any, business or career decisions must be made as instantly as a goalkeeper reacting to a penalty kick; all are more complex and dependent on the way external events turn out. Yet managers still face this constant urge to act, even when waiting to see what else may happen can be shown to improve the chances of success.

    It’s interesting that Warren Buffett, probably the world’s most famous and most successful investor, is famous for his inaction. He has even been known to apologize to shareholders in his company, telling them that profits would have been higher if he had spent his time in total idleness, instead of acting to invest their money. Looking to the long term, he ignores short-term ups and downs and simply waits to see what will happen.

    If you think about it, doing nothing is often the right thing to do. Jumping into any action before all the facts are in, or failing to allow events to unfold before fixing on a way to interpret them, is both foolish and irrational. That’s why slowing down can be so powerful in helping you to reach success; you’re less likely to make avoidable errors.

    Organizational and career implications

    Given our strong cultural bias towards action — almost any action — it’s not surprising organizations are filled with people who would far rather do anything than wait on events — even though this would increase the chances that whatever action they choose in the end — even if it remains to do nothing — will be a success. Few decisions in the world of work are made rationally or objectively, especially when emotions from triumph and elation to shame and humiliation are tied up in the outcome.

    Still, the next time you feel that you really ought to get something done, it might be sensible to wonder what is urging you forward. Is it really the rational need to produce an outcome, based on a clear grasp of what is needed; or is it that nagging voice that tells you waiting any longer will leave you open to the charge that you didn’t even try?

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    Last Updated on November 13, 2018

    Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?

    Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?

    Don’t we all want to live a full, happy and satisfied life? For some of us, it need not be a long life as long as it’s been a fulfilling life of achievements, happiness and no regrets. But, how many of us actually go on to experience that entirely? It sometimes sounds more like a pipe dream–a fantasy rather than reality.

    And then you’ll also get comments from some, saying that this ‘fulfilling life’ is only possible if you’re so rich that you don’t have to care about working, paying the bills or providing for your family. While there is some truth to that, I’m happy to say that financial freedom isn’t the only answer to living a fulfilling life.

    Living a Fulfilling Life is Within Reach

    Anyone can pursue a life of fullness, and it all starts with the willingness to learn. How many years has it been since you last attended a class in school? If you’re well into your adult years as a working professional, chances are it’s been a while. Do you remember the times where you had to wake up for early morning lectures? Or the times where you were rushing through a paper or project? And, of course there were the endless exams that you had to cram for.

    As a young college student, I remember looking forward to the time when I would finally be done with school! No more homework, no more grades to worry about, no more stress! The learning was finally done and I could enter the working world.

    Not so much!

    Now that I’ve finally entered the working world, there are moments where I do wish to be a student again; it seemed less stressful then!

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    There is simply so much out there that I still need to learn and experience. Yet I find myself pressed for time. With family commitments, my business and my own social life to juggle, I’ve had to keep on finding for new ways to learn and absorb new information efficiently. Over the years, I’ve found that by learning new skills and knowledge, I was able to find answers and solutions to my problems, which allowed me to achieve a greater sense of fulfillment.

    Learning Never Ends

    The truth is, learning never ends. Generally speaking, it is true that a formal education and the resulting qualifications are important in securing good jobs; jobs that allow you to excel, earn more and perhaps become more successful in our chosen career. But going to school is only one type of learning. All throughout your life, you’re learning in many ways. All these experiences shape and grow you into the person that you are today.

    There are many opportunities to further your knowledge and develop the skills you need throughout life. Knowledge can be acquired and skill-sets can be developed anywhere. However, lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude to learning both for personal and professional development.

    Many people overlook the fact that learning can take place anywhere and in many forms. Most would tend to think of learning as the years spent in a learning institute, which occurs mostly in their younger days. And once you go out into the working world, your ‘learning’ ends.

    This is not how it has to be–in fact, lifelong learning is a gift that keeps on giving.

    The Importance of Lifelong Learning

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    Why is it important to become a lifelong learner?

    A lifelong learner is motivated to learn and develop because they want to; it is a deliberate and voluntary act. Lifelong learning can enhance our understanding of the world around us, provide us with more and better opportunities, and improve our quality of life.

    You’ll Remain Relevant in the Workplace

    With advancements in society today, the human life expectancy continues to increase, which means more people are also retiring at a later age. So no matter what stage of life you’re in, being a lifelong learner brings its own rewards. It means we can get more personal satisfaction from our lives and jobs as we understand more about who we are and what we do.

    This can lead to better results and a more rewarding working day in turn. Whether it’s for advancing your career, a personal interest or wanting to pursue new dreams, learning automatically pushes you forward towards progress and enhances your wellbeing.

    You’ll Increase Your Earning Potential

    From a financial point of view, a more highly skilled and knowledgeable worker is an asset to any company. This also leads to faster promotion with associated salary increases.

    Someone who can offer more expertise will be of more value not just to employers but also to customers. Expertise is also, often, a key quality of an effective leader.

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    And since you’ll constantly be accumulating knowledge, you’ll have an edge on those who don’t value lifelong learning and can’t bring as much to the table. Your extra knowledge will translate into transferable skills, which means you’ll always be primed to blow the competition out of the water.

    Learning Gives You Options

    Of course, one of the most rewarding reasons for continuous learning, is that it gives you options! Successfully changing career path in mid-life and spending time informally developing expertise is more common than ever, especially during rapidly changing market conditions.

    Whatever your age, it’s never too late to start fresh in life. When you start educating yourself and exposing yourself to new knowledge and information, you widen your opportunities. This will allow you to do more than what you may currently be doing, or give you a way out if you’re not happy or fulfilled with where you’re at now.

    Our economy is shifting increasingly towards short-term and part-time contracts with more flexible work-patterns. We have to adapt to changes going on in the work-world, make more of ourselves by stepping out of our comfort zones, and break the false ideas about our potential and how we believe life is going.

    Gain More with Cornerstone Skills

    You may be well into your career, but feel like somehow, something is still missing. Or maybe you’re not entirely happy with where you’re at in your career path and feel it’s time to reflect and perhaps do something new. Or you might be thinking of retiring soon, and thinking about next steps after retirement.

    The learning never needs to stop!

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    This can be your chance to go after a dream or interest that you’ve always had (but never had the opportunity, or time, to pursue). This could finally be the time for you to create the change that you know you should have made ages ago.

    Why not take the first step to learn about 7 important Cornerstone Skills, which will help take your life to the next stage?

    Whatever situation you’re in, having these 7 Cornerstone Skills will no doubt equip you to tackle the challenges of life much more efficiently. Don’t let age, your limitations or a comfort zone stop you from seeking greater rewards and self-improvement.

    Transformation and change is in your hands–you have the power to make big things happen, and we can help teach you the skills. Don’t let life pass you by! It’s time to pursue a fulfilling and happy life.

    Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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