Some say that the legal profession has raised caution to a high art form. Even so, it is possible to find in every walk of life people whose favorite course of action is to adopt a wait and see strategy. But is this a wise course? Some recent writing about the human tendency to avoid making a commitment and taking a decision suggests that the temporary reprieve provided by a deferred decision may be extremely costly. Consider the following:
- While many prefer to make only reversible decisions (or avoid hard decisions altogether), psychologists tell us that this approach can lead to more unhappiness and poorer performance. According to their studies, our unwillingness to commit to a decision causes us to waste energy worrying about that decision after the fact. This in turn leaves us with less energy to act in such a way as to ensure a good outcome. In other words, the lack of commitment can lead to a bad result. For more information on this phenomenon, read Heidi Grant Halvorson’s post Why Keeping Your Options Open Is A Really, Really Bad Idea.
- The wait and see strategy is particularly problematic when facing innovation. It takes courage (and what sometimes seems like a touch of insanity) to be a first mover, yet the benefits of being first can be very rewarding. Bruce MacEwen reminds us of this when talking about the slow pace of innovation in his favorite location — “lawland.” In his post, Be Innovative? Who, Me?, he looks at the European and US car industries. As he tells it, the European automakers seized a key competitive advantage by committing early to innovation. Thus, by the time the US stragglers finally admitted that the European innovations were worthwhile, the Europeans had time to refine those innovations and move on to the next thing. McEwen suggests that lawyers can draw a lesson from the automakers.
- In her recent commencement address at Barnard College, Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s COO) spoke about the costs of failing to commit to a career. In her view, this failure to commit over time leads to the kind of career from which too many women are willing to walk away. Andrew McAfee describes her remarks as a “graduation speech for the ages.” While you may not agree with everything she says, it’s worth thinking about her comments on the dangers of failing to commit. In particular, she urges the listening graduates to “lean in” to their careers: “Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.” (I’ve posted a video of her speech below for those of you who would like to hear more from her.)
So there you have it — three different instances in which failing to commit, to decide, to act can have painful consequences. In light of this, what are you waiting for?
Sheryl Sandberg’s Speech:
[Photo Credit: Crashcandy]