By Bruce Kasanoff
Bruce Kasanoff is author of Simplify the Future, your guide to a successful career and a rewarding life.
It's driving you crazy. No matter what you say or do, your client - or boss - won't make a decision, despite your best efforts.
Why can't he make decisions like you do, in a clear and reasoned manner? (Hold on - you might not be right about that last part.)
In reality, human being lean towards inaction. There's even a name for this tendency.
It's called the status quo bias. For example, several studies have revealed that the more complicated a decision, the more likely a person is to do nothing.
This true even when doing nothing is neither the wisest nor safest choice. For example, participation in retirement plans is higher when employees are automatically enrolled in such plans.
This is true even when employees have both the option to leave or join the plan; there is an unmistakable tendency to stick with the status quo. If your employer enrolls you automatically, you are more likely to keep the plan. If your employer waits for you to enroll, you are more likely not to enroll. But the wisdom of enrolling (or not) doesn't change. Coming soon: increasingly complicated decisions.
Most people agree that our world is getting more and more complex.
This suggests that the status quo bias will be increasingly powerful, as people confront complicated decisions with greater frequency. This is a big problem for you if you need to sell a product to customers, to convince your peers to take action, or even to persuade your family members to act in their own best interest.
So what do you do? Here are three options:
1) Simplify decisions: If you want other people to decide, make those decisions less complicated. If possible, reduce the number of options. Make sure there are clear distinctions between the options. For example, in a financial services arena, "Do you want the high risk/high return option or the low risk/modest return option?" is much better than a long-winded statement that talks about all of the individual investments of two complicated portfolios.
2) Make the "yes" automatic: At the end of every month, your cable provider doesn't ask if you want to remain as a customer, right? They assume you want to continue. Many companies make handsome profits thanks to automatic replenishment programs that require just a single "yes" at the beginning of the program. (I haven't watched Netflix in months, but they keep taking money out of my bank account.)
3) Elevate one choice: A furniture salesman might say to a couple torn between three fabric options for their new sofa, "Most people in your situation choose the Durasuede, because it looks handsome but is nearly indestructible." He is elevating a single option, effectively making the choice for his customers but allowing them to technically make the choice themselves.
QUESTION FOR YOU... What else have you done to overcome the status quo bias?