Status Quo Bias

Status Quo Bias: The Dangers of Letting It Run Your Business

Whatever your current state of affairs are, they serve as a reference point — a gauge to measure the past and future. How else would we make sense of time? Our brains draw comparisons and use generalized categories to create a narrative about life: better versus worse, more versus less. We become accustomed to a certain status quo. While it’s impossible to become blind to your current status quo – something economists call “status quo bias”, you should never let it hop in the driver’s seat.

Status quo bias is an all-too-common problem in both our professional and personal lives. Essentially, this bias convinces us to keep things as they are, equating most changes with loss. It can drag business owners into a stagnant and wasteful mode of operating, letting fear determine their strategy. So what is a better method to adopt, and how can you avoid the pitfalls of this seemingly pervasive bias?

Opening up your perception

One of the broadest ways to loosen the hold of the status quo bias is to start letting go of your immediate assumptions and expectations. For example, if you found $20 while walking down the street, you would perceive this as a gain. If you dropped that money several minutes later, you probably wouldn’t feel as upset as you would if you dropped $20 that was actually yours — that would be perceived as a loss. The loss of the $20 you found would simply put you back at the status quo, where you originally started. This shows how our perceptions of gain and loss dictate our attitudes. In reality, both scenarios are the same, but they are perceived much differently.

Business owners who can view situations from a broader perspective can make decisions that are better for long-term success. Instead of viewing your business on a linear, loss/gain timeline, try to imagine it as a web with various factors being influenced all at once. In this way, you avoid the status quo bias by seeing many potential outcomes rather than just loss or gain. Once you can do that, you no longer need to cling to old patterns and norms.

Passion trumps routine

Straying from a routine, especially one that has existed for a long period of time, can create anxiety and uncertainty. You may wonder if you’re making a terrible mistake, and that fear of the unknown creeps into your mind. As effective as routines can be, they must be adaptable. A good routine is flexible and designed to evolve. For every business owner, there comes a time when sticking rigidly to a routine limits your potential for growth and new opportunities.

Computer scientist Grace Hopper said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” Technology has taught us this continually in recent years. As software becomes increasingly complex with greater capabilities, businesses are forced to change their routines to make small improvements and upgrades. While before it made sense to have three separate systems for advertising, inventory and finances, there are now platforms that offer assistance and automation in all of these areas. To resist a simpler and more efficient tool for the sake of maintaining the old routine would be time-consuming and stressful.

So what practice can you adopt instead?

The word “passion” gets a bad rap in the business world. It’s often viewed as irresponsible, and acting on your passion is seen as a surefire way to run your business into the ground. However, learning to let passion have a say in your decision-making is not nearly as dangerous as it sounds. In fact, following passion and letting go of strict routine can be more efficient and impactful over time. The reason is that passion motivates you, while the status quo bores you. Research has even linked boredom to inefficiency. Even more telling is a study that revealed that strong negative emotions are the primary cause of the status quo bias, such as the fear of regret:

“As negative emotions became more intense, subjects’ choice of the status quo alternative became more common.”

By slowly letting go of the assumption that the status quo is where you should linger, you can strengthen many facets of your business. One case study shows how passion allows leaders to set the tone for the rest of their team. Also, it lets your brand values shine through authentically and increases your customers’ confidence in you.

Rather than always falling back on safe decisions and familiar methods, ask yourself what excites and motivates you. You may start to notice ways to choose new processes, re-energize your team, and remember why you started your business in the first place.

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