Some might say a positive side of action bias is forward momentum and an increased potential for discovery. In the startup world you’ll always be hearing things like “move fast and break things” and “fail fast”, which may be about discovery.
In my experience action bias has had more of a negative effect.
In soccer penalty kicks, goalkeepers choose their action before they can clearly observe the kick direction. An analysis of 286 penalty kicks in top leagues and championships worldwide shows that given the probability distribution of kick direction, the optimal strategy for goalkeepers is to stay in the goal’s center. Goalkeepers, however, almost always jump right or left.
Why won’t the goalkeeper stay still?
Norm theory…implies that a goal scored yields worse feelings for the goalkeeper following inaction (staying in the center) than following action (jumping), leading to a bias for action.
In other words it’s “normal” to jump to one side, and just feels better to have done something!
In many businesses action bias is rife, maybe because moments of thoughtfulness and inaction are often frowned upon and seen as a lack of productivity. But particularly with knowledge work
, doing something rather than nothing can just be an illusion of progress. It’s also hard to see the positive consequences of the things people don’t
If you’ve ever been part of an organization that was restructuring regularly, this might ring true:
Continuous reorganization may be dangerous. The Roman satirist Petronius Arbiter said in the 1st Century: “We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”
I’ll leave you with this one from Henry David Thoreau:
It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?“ Don’t confuse activity with results. There is no reason to do a good job with something you shouldn’t do in the first place.