Why do typical decision processes produce ineffective and lackluster results? The answer is fear. Hardly anyone is immune to the contagion of fear that can envelop a tough issue and cause decision-making problems. Even the best and the brightest of us succumb to it.
The Legacy of Fear
The underpinnings of fear and scarcity lie deep within our culture. For example, business economics is defined as the study of how people choose to employ scarce resources. Classic definitions of government describe the process of allocating limited resources-who gets which slice of a very small pie.
Unfortunately, the primary reason that fear-driven group dynamics are so pervasive is that at some level they get results. Managers who win at office politics by spreading fear feel vindicated, especially when they advance in their organizations. So why should they change tactics that work for them? Employees of start-ups, afraid that they'll run out of money or that a major competitor will crush them, work extremely long hours, and often their on-the-edge performance gets good results.
The fact is that, although fear can provide near-term benefits, those benefits usually come at the cost of long-term consequences. Fear-induced behavior marginalizes and discourages employees who lose out in power struggles. Eventually these people stop offering their new ideas and voicing their concerns, because they fear they'll just be shot down. And the problem isn't just inside the organization. Fear can also cause missed opportunities to forge collaborations with suppliers or competitors and build new markets.
As opportunities and risks become greater, the potential for fears to overtake an organization's decision-making dynamics mounts. When difficult circumstances arise or big financial interests are at stake, groups damp down, becoming less open to fresh insights or unconventional thinking. The quest for control overrides the need for inclusion and respect, and all that's wanted are preconceived results.
Fear Gets In the Way
Fears plague organizations by setting up a system of negative behaviors and responses that rarely vary. This system includes:
- Negative thoughts: What you want is scarce.
- Troubled feelings: There won't be enough to go around. You can never get enough.
- Disruptive behavior: People become abrupt, short tempered, and self-protective.
- Frayed relationships: Participants become suspicious of one another. Cooperation declines.
Fear Creates Scarcity
Fear of not getting enough stimulates ego-driven control mechanisms. This prompts win-lose dynamics, a contest of wills. Who will prevail and get the recognition, resources, and rewards? Who will lose out? In time, lose-lose dynamics become the norm. People who have lost power plot how to regain it. Those in control fear that someone will overtake them. These factions create the conditions for the very scarcity they feared in the first place.