• Action bias: How to skip reasonable control

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    A story is told about people riding in a four-engine propeller airplane. When three of the engines conked out, immediately the cabin door opened, and the pilot appeared ready to jump with a parachute on his back.

    “Keep calm, folks, and don’t panic,” he ordered. “I’m going for help.”

    There is no question that this frightened everyone. The pilot chose to survive rather than be a dead hero. He chose to be a walking dead in the eyes of the people, more so to the families of the victims.

    That’s why 94 percent of the time, it’s better for one to try to do something and fail rather than do nothing.

    I’ve seen this happen many times. Many people don’t try to prevent evil things from happening. We remember Edmund Burke’s maxim: “The only thing necessary for evil things to happen is when good men do nothing.”

    Look around us, this happens every day when law enforcers are busy doing something other than their jobs. And the list goes on and on.

    But who are the “good men?” In some business circles, they keep silent during meetings even when prodded to say something. If not, they simply absent themselves and give ho-hum excuses in the same conviction when they sign an affidavit of loss of their driver’s license. Normally, they will chorus a familiar refrain: “I’m too busy to handle it for now” or words to that effect.

    Last week, someone who is known to preface his statements with “it’s 3 a.m. and I’m still working…” once again bragged about his bias for action. It was 30 years ago when I first heard the buzzword “bias for action” from Tom Peters and Robert Waterman Jr. in their international bestseller “In Search of Excellence.”

    But what is “bias for action?” If you see spiders nesting in your office computer monitor, then obviously, that’s an exact opposite of “bias for action.” Peters, who confessed faking the data in their 1982 book, describes “bias for action” as an active decision-making process that skips reasonable control, including consensus-building.

    “I’ll do it no matter what!” is what you hear from biased-for-action people, even if their decisions are bordering on irregularity, immorality, and illegality. You don’t generally don’t have to worry if they’re spending their own money, but they’re not.

    “Bias for action” came to me again when I read of Rolf Dobelli’s “action bias.” So, what makes them different? In the “The Art of Thinking Clearly” (2013), Dobelli defines “action bias” as “look(ing) active, even if it achieves nothing.”

    He explains the different responses between young and senior police officers in a situation involving two groups of youngsters exiting a nightclub on early morning, while making wild catcalls against each other, short of escalating into an all-out brawl.

    In this case, young, overzealous police officers would immediately succumb to action bias by an aggressive intervention resulting in physical injuries, if not death. On the other hand, senior officers try a different but mature approach of pacifying the protagonists.

    In the workplace, action bias is manifested when a worker logs in 10-12 daily working hours, claims overtime pay, and yet at the end of the day, you see no result. When you’ve been in management like what I’ve experienced in the equivalent of my 5,000 years of working with people, you get used to all kinds of wacky claims in support of their bid for the Perfect Attendance Award, which is another form of great corporate scandal.

    After all, why give award to people who are required to report for work every day?

    So what makes them proud of their rocking chair mentality? What makes them feel that movement without tangible result matter? What makes them think that karoshi (death by overwork) is an honorable thing to do?

    If you don’t know the answer, get off my windshield as you’re blocking my view of my colorful future.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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