Why our brains find it so challenging to bail out of a bad plan…because, it’s seldom easy!
An aspiration of most entrepreneurial-minded (professional) service providers is to influence... decision makers to favorably consider how-why it is in their interest to re-consider the gravitational pull of past practice, i.e., (a.) the way its always been done, and (b.) why change is now warranted.
My experiences suggest most entrepreneurial business teams have heard this perspective…probably more times than they may care to remember. We know, from our experiences that the act and art of effectively – successfully pitching (articulating) a new product or service has produced minutia of (usually) well-intentioned sub-genres.
Browsing any online book seller…one can find countless books advocating an assortment of strategies geared to pitching a new product, service, or perspective to prospective (readers) buyers-clients, who are presumably seeking insights and language to more consistently ‘cross the buy-sell chasm’. Some are seeking familiarity where they have previously exhibited reluctance. All-to-frequently, such books-articles are framed – chaptered in some variation of the proverbial ‘quick and easy step’ methodology, i.e., how to and/or what-not-to-do. Again, entrepreneurial minded professional services providers wish it were so simple and straight-forward.
To be sure, I do not wish to cast dispersion on any….author, book proposal, or manuscript which is already being developed and almost sure to be published as representing a new, different, or much nuanced ‘pitch model’.
Most entrepreneurs charged with pitching new products or services…are familiar with the array of challenges insofar as persuading a management team to pursue a different or alternative path apart from what they and their company is accustom, whether it emanates from culture, practice, policy, or regulatory mandate.
Getting others to recognize the benefits of changes being proposed…is seldom easy or quick. Instead, its likely to be challenging for parties to accept, often irrespective of (a.) the clarity and experiential evidence presented, and/or (b.) the favorable probabilities demonstrated for lucrative, competitive, and sustainable outcomes and returns in the near term.
Introducing intangible assets…it would seem logical, when company c-suite’s are introduced to, and acknowledge the universal economic fact, that today, 80+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, competitiveness, and sustainability lie in – emerge directly from intangible (non-physical) assets, intangibles would quickly become routine action items on their respective agendas and prompt favorable consideration for adoption.
However, as most of us know all-too-well, past practices are…powerful and influential customs, routines, and occasionally, even an emotion laden phenomena (procedures, processes, etc.) which require artful and overwhelmingly compelling rationale and timing to elicit the type and level of change being advanced.
Knowing these circumstances first hand…prompted me to pay particular attention to a recently released study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and its subsequent discussion on NPR (National Public Radio’s) Morning Edition (December 7, 2017) titled ‘Why Your Brain Has Trouble Bailing Out Of A Bad Plan’.
How does a company know when it’s time to modify – depart from past practice…well, this can start by applying NPR’s discussion on this topic as an example, let’s say you are driving your car and approaching an intersection. The street light turns yellow, suggesting you should preferably stop, but, if not, proceed with caution. But, in this instance, the driver elects to increase their speed, intending to proceed through the intersection. In doing so, the driver sees a police car. The driver recognizes they have made an error in judgment. Interestingly, there is a good chance the driver will proceed through the intersection anyway, according to Susan Courtney, a professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University who was part of a team of researchers who conducted a study on this matter.
The reason why a driver is likely to proceed through a yellow (caution) light…at an intersection, even when a police car is present, is because, as one area of our (the driver’s) brain is recognizing the presence of the police car, another area of the driver’s brain has already begun carrying out the driver’s original plan, i.e., to accelerate and proceed through the intersection under the yellow cautionary light.
More specifically, this studies’ findings…also point out that, even if a driver has yet to commence physically moving their foot toward the accelerator, their brain has already initiated the plan to do precisely that, i.e., depress the accelerator.
So, stopping – reversing a bad, or even mediocre plan, once the various ‘planning’ stages are underway…that is, actually stopping it within our brain requires a lot of, what the Johns Hopkins’ researchers describe as extra ‘brainpower’ to achieve reversal, should that option still be possible. It all can become very complicated, very quickly, as the study’s researchers describe in their findings published recently in the journal, Neuron.
For this study, a Johns Hopkins University research team monitored the brain activity...of 21 people (i.e., research participants) as they encountered situations purposefully made comparable to the car driving story described above.
The studies’ (research) participants were asked to focus on a central point on a screen placed before them…and wait for a target to appear elsewhere on the screen…
- occasionally, the participants were-allowed-to shift their gaze to the target when it appeared.
at other times, the participants would receive a visual cue, initiated by a researcher, intended to overrule their impulse to shift their gaze to the target.
- doing so, would require them to (intellectually) cancel that (initial) action which their brain was already about to execute.
A key research takeaway…was that most all-of-the communication (to the studies’ participants) had to occur in a time frame of one-tenth of one second, i.e.,
- the time when a participant (car driver) observed the cue not to change their eye gaze.
- after the one-tenth of a second had elapsed.
- the signal would have already been sent to the participant’s (car driver’s) eye muscles, which the researchers found it virtually impossible (for a participant) to stop.
Physical – intellectual lag time…provides relevant insight why drivers, ala business decision makers, are inclined to sense brief windows of time when their brain recognizes they should not accelerate through an intersection during a yellow (cautionary) light in the presence of a police car.
The challenges arise however…as a drivers foot depresses the cars’ accelerator anyway. In other words, once a signal has been sent to our brain, we (a driver, a business decision maker) can, if they choose, observe their foot actually depress their cars accelerator absent the ability to stop – reverse the action.
From these observations, the researchers concluded…that people’s brain’s, specifically, our internal ‘stop and/or reverse mechanisms and systems’ are involved in a lot more than merely controlling various body (physical) movements. So, it’s not only about whether a driver can stop their foot from depressing their car’s accelerator, it’s can also be about changing the plan which has been sent to our brains, about anything and everything.
So, it seems fair to extrapolate from this study, insofar as business decision making is concerned…that this-may-be-why we, as humans (via, our respective brains) experience challenges to bail out of, or otherwise reverse, bad plans once their execution has commenced intellectually, and yes, perhaps physiologically, as well.
Too, perhaps, once people, irrespective of position, capacity, experiential base, etc.,..become acculturated – accustom to a particular-set of practices and/or procedures, be they business decision makers or automobile drivers, etc., i.e., this is the way it’s always been done, seldom can-will there be much, if any, receptivity to change or consider potentially viable (business operating) alternatives.
For example…the recognition – incorporation of intangible assets, even when there is clear, unequivocal, and objective economic evidence that doing so consistently carry – produce strong probabilities for producing-delivering substantially more favorable (lucrative, competitive, and sustainable) returns and outcomes to plans.
Interestingly, there is a view held by Russ Poldrack…a professor of psychology at Stanford University, who was not part of the Johns Hopkins study referenced above, says, one function of our brain systems’ ‘stop an action mechanism’ may actually-help people avoid danger and be more cautious in making choices, therefore, they are likely to take fewer risks, in business, and otherwise.
My takeaway…the economic fact that 80+% of most company’s value, sources of revenue, competitiveness, and sustainability lie in – emerge directly from intangible (non-physical) assets is neither difficult to understand or commence action to reap the benefits!
Note: The content of the study cited here has been adapted by Michael D. Moberly for this at his ‘Business Intangible Asset Blog’. A special thanks to NPR’s Morning Edition for airing this segment on December 7, 2017 and to researchers Kitty Z. Xu, Brian A. Anderson, Erik E. Emeric, Anthony W. Sali, Veit Stuphorn, Steven Yantis, and Susan M. Courtney, Departments of Psychological, Brain Sciences, and Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
Michael D. Moberly June 13, 2018 St. Louis firstname.lastname@example.org ‘The Intangible Asset Blog’ (http://kpstrat.com/blog) where attention span and action really matter!