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When Bias For Action Gets In The Way Of Better Planning

Better Decisions For Entrepreneurs

Imagine you're at home and you notice a small leak under your kitchen sink.

You're tempted to immediately grab some tools and start trying to fix it yourself.

This impulse is driven by the bias for action—you want to address the issue right away to avoid potential water damage and to feel productive.



Here are some things you probably haven’t considered:


What’s the source of the leak? What’s the extent of the leak? Is it perhaps a symptom of a larger plumbing issue?

Do you have the right tools and materials to fix it effectively and sustainably?

Do you know what you’re doing? Do you know what mistakes to avoid, like over-tightening pipes or improperly sealing joints?


Bias for action


In the fast-paced world of business (and personal decision-making such as home improvements!), there's a common belief: action is inherently better than inaction.

This tendency, often referred to as a "bias for action", leads us to favor immediate action over deliberation.


And it’s driven by a variety of psychological factors. Notably,


We get to have immediate feedback and, “when” all goes well (over-optimism!) we’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment.


We get to fit in with what others around us consider as qualities of leadership and competence, that is, decisiveness and swift action (influence of social and cultural norms)


It’s a good deal easier to do something than to spend time contemplating and planning, which requires more cognitive effort (cognitive ease).


We’ll have no regrets for not “trying” and missing out on opportunities.



So what?


There are serious downsides to action-oriented thinking.


While bias for action can lead to quick wins and a sense of progress, it can also impede careful, strategic planning. It can lead to hurried decisions that are less effective than those made with a bit more consideration.


Like an amateur, wanna-be plumber, we may fall prey to:


  • Inadequate Planning. Rushing into action can mean insufficient time for strategic planning, leading to suboptimal outcomes.

  • Overlooking Risks. Quick actions often involve less thorough risk assessment, which can result in unforeseen complications.

  • Resource Misallocation. Without proper planning, resources might be deployed inefficiently, leading to wastage, opportunity costs and missed strategic goals.

  • Burnout. Constant action without adequate planning can lead to burnout, as individuals and teams are continually reacting rather than proactively strategizing.

Now what?


How do we strike a balance between action and planning?


Balancing the bias for action with the need for thorough planning requires conscious effort and setting away planning time for you and your team. The first step, perhaps, is to appreciate the value of planning by shifting cultural norms within the team to equally value planning and action, and thus create the intrinsic motivation to counter action bias.


Once we understand the value for balance, we can counter our tendency to dive into action by asking ourselves these questions:


What’s the problem in its entirety? Which aspects should I focus on now?


What’s the first solution that comes to mind? Did I already try this and failed? Why might it be inappropriate? What’s the opportunity cost if I do this?


What are 2 or 3 more options I can think of? How can I combine different options to create better one(s)?


Who has already solved my problem? Who knows more than me about this and can help me?


By resisting the immediate urge to act and taking time to plan, we can avoid making the problem worse and potentially save time and money in the long run.

P.S. What’s a problem you rushed into solving recently? How would you do things differently?

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