Monday Musings 186: Bias for Inaction
Any cubclist worth his salt will tell you that a 'bias for action' has been dished out as a panacea and as his corporate karma more number of times than any other corporate sermon ever; others include 'think out of the box', 'being proactive/creative/innovative', 'I don't know how but just get it done' et al.
The phrase 'bias for action' in the corporate corridors was made famous by Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal in their book 'Bias of action' - and although the book itself never promoted wasteful action or frenzied overaction - this phrase snailed its way into the lexicon of business managers who usually used it to mean 'always be doing something'. In good times act because a semblance of work has to be shown and in bad times keep up the act to let others know that you are not sitting idle but trying to solve things.
I am sure action is good - but purposive action is better. Action must not be for action sake. It must be for the sake of a preferred outcome, after having satisfied oneself that the action will indeed lead to the desired outcome. Otherwise and till such time such causality is established, it may be wiser to do nothing. Considered non action is more powerful than mindless action.
Non-action is not the same thing as inaction. Inaction means you are not doing when something can be done. Non-action means you are exercising a 'choice' - of not doing anything when you have both the inclination and the ability to do something because you believe on the basis of information and wisdom that not doing anything is a better thing to do. However in today’s frenzied context that may be a terrible thing to suggest. All around us there appears to be a premium on doing something or the other, keep taking some initiative or the other (I call it the 'initiative overdose'). Considered Non-action is misconstrued as intellectual lethargy or lack of application, that is surely not going to attract encomiums.
Research headed by Michael Bar Eli at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel studied how the goal keepers should defend penalty kicks. He concluded that based on the two factors that influence the outcome of a penalty kick - one the distance a goal keeper can jump on both sides, two the time available for the goal keeper to respond (.3 seconds), it makes eminently more sense to stay still rather than jump on either side.(http://www.scienceofsocceronline.com/2009/04/penalty-kicks-by-numbers.html) - that is considered non-action than non-purposive action. Yet goal keepers jump either side more often than not because it is better to appear losing a goal while doing something rather than just standing there.
There is merit in purposive, passionate and perseverant action. There is wisdom in purposive non action. Sometimes it makes sense to dig in your heels, cover your head and let the storm pass. There are two billion dollar questions around this conundrum - the lesser evil is to know what the time for purposive non-action is, the greater evil is to know how to answer your boss when he hollers at you "why the hell don’t you do something".