Discover more from Admired Leadership Field Notes
The Overwhelming Allure of the Status Quo Bias
Leaders and team members carry with them a boatload of decision biases that influence their choices. From Confirmation Bias to Sunk Cost Fallacy, overcoming the many distortions caused by common thinking tendencies is an ongoing challenge for good leaders.
In the last two decades, academics have done a spectacular job of identifying and explicating many of the most common decision prejudices. Names like the Hindsight Bias, the Bandwagon Effect, Overconfidence Bias, Loss Aversion, and Anchoring Bias are becoming increasingly well-known and understood. Not surprisingly, the lineup of biases continues to grow as psychologists probe deeper into everyday judgment and decision-making.
Of the most widely studied and thought-about biases, one decision contortion has a disproportionate influence on nearly every decision leaders and team members make and is often overlooked. The prize for the most pervasive decision flaw likely belongs to the Bias of the Status Quo. Every good leader needs to understand this thinking tendency and work hard to overcome it.
The Status Quo Bias can be summed up in two short sentences: People cling to familiarity, comfort, and certainty. As a result, they have a tendency to maintain the current state of affairs rather than make changes.
The most common decision every leader makes each day is to continue doing what they already are doing. This is not a problem … until it is. In other words, maintaining the status quo is both natural and effective, unless what is in place isn’t working. Then, the bias kicks in.
Leaders and team members resist making changes even in the face of less-than-average outcomes. The tendency to stay the course and ignore the warning signs that something is amiss looms large.
The bias to maintain the status quo also gets in the way of strategic planning. The enthusiasm to craft and implement new strategies to seize opportunities is dulled by the preference for the status quo. People often argue against change because they prefer the predictability and familiarity of what they know. They prefer the comfort of the existing strategy over a new one.
Resisting the temptation to remain firmly in place by continuing existing processes, habits, systems, and strategies is never easy. The fact that maintaining the status quo is often the best decision makes this effort even more difficult.
The solution to this challenge is to continually ask a simple question: Do we have good reasons for favoring the current state? If the answer is neutral or only slightly in favor of the status quo, good leaders push through this bias and begin charting a new course.
The natural inclination to stay the course is a confession about what we prefer. Good leaders know that making a change is uncomfortable and the status quo offers a security blanket of reassurance. They stay vigilant regarding this bias and resist the urge to surrender their choices to this pervasive proclivity.