Action Bias

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15th September, 2023

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” wrote Blaise Pascal in the 17th Century.

Action bias is to look active, even if it achieves nothing.

We all fall to this bias in our daily life.

We go to a doctor and he diagnoses it as a simple cold. We still want a medicine for it and the poor chap has had it if he doesn’t prescribe at least a Vitamin.

There is a marriage in the family and everyone wants to be involved despite the dictum of ‘Too many cooks will spoil the Broth’.

If the stock market corrects, we must take action immediately. There is an election, we all want to be involved in a campaign & must support a party, we don’t like to not be a part of the action or wait lest we miss the bus.

So what accounts for this tendency?

In our old hunter-gatherer environment, action trumped reflection. Lightning-fast reactions were essential to survival; deliberation could be fatal.

When our ancestors saw a silhouette appear at the edge of the forest—something that looked a lot like an animal—they did not take a minute to muse over what it might be. They just ran—and fast.

We are the descendants of these quick responders. Back then, it was better to run away once too often.

However, our world today is different; it rewards patience, even though our instincts may suggest otherwise.

Although we now value contemplation more highly, outright inaction remains a cardinal sin.

We equate keeping busy with productivity, another quality we assign significant value to. However, a lack of action often proves to be more productive than taking action.

“The devil makes work for idle hands” is an old expression emphasizing that staying busy will keep you out of trouble. It’s just one example of how we consider a lack of action to be inherently wrong.

Our need for action also stems from our need for control. Activity makes us feel as though we have the capacity to change things, while passivity makes us feel like we’ve given up and have accepted that we can do nothing more. Essentially, doing something makes us feel better about ourselves than not doing something, reinforcing this behavior.

You get no honour, no medal, no statue with your name on it if you make exactly the right decision by waiting—for the good of the company, the state, even humanity.

On the other hand, if you demonstrate decisiveness and quick judgment, and the situation improves though perhaps coincidentally, it’s quite possible your boss, or even the mayor, will shake your hand.

Society at large still prefers rash action to a sensible wait-and-see strategy.

In new or shaky circumstances, we feel compelled to do something, anything.

Afterward we feel better, even if we have made things worse by acting too quickly or too often.

So, though it might not merit a parade in your honour, if a situation is unclear, hold back until you can assess your options.

We don’t need to respond to every situation that we face or that may arise, Just have the patience and wait and Stay blessed forever.