Running a red light in order to save a few precious seconds is one of the dumbest, most irrational things people do. Yet we do it all the time, in business and in real life.
The other day, while driving home from a long session with a client, the light in front of me suddenly turned yellow. I was tired and in a hurry, but caution dictated that I stop for the light and wait my turn. The driver on my left apparently had different ideas, because he gunned his engine and charged through the intersection well after the light had turned red.
At first I thought, what was that guy thinking? And then I realized that he wasn’t thinking, he was reacting. And therein lies the problem.
As human beings, we like to consider ourselves rational creatures. But the faster the world moves, the less rational we get. Lately, it seems that the world keeps moving faster than ever. And the more it speeds up, the more we shut down our critical thinking processes and simply react in the moment.
Obviously there are times when we need to react, such as in life-threatening situations. But most of the time, reacting instantly does not serve us well because it usually stems from underlying assumptions and beliefs that have little to no basis in reality.
Running a red light is based on multiple incorrect assumptions. The first, and most illogical, is that getting to our destination a minute or two faster is more important than our own personal safety. Not to mention the safety of the other drivers around us.
Another belief or assumption (or what we like to call thought bubbles) might be that if we stop for the light, the car behind us will plow into our rear bumper. Or, the civil engineers who designed the intersection and timed the light are incompetent and should be disregarded. Or, “Everyone else does it, so why shouldn’t I?” Or, “I won’t get caught, so it’s no big deal.”
The list of thought bubbles could go on and on. But when you pause for just a moment to think about it, there is no good reason for running a red light. We know it’s inconsiderate to other drivers. We know it’s against the law. We know it’s dangerous. Yet we rationalize away the danger and do it anyway.
The worst part is that the rationalization happens so quickly we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We simply stop thinking and react. And every time we do it, we train our brains to shortcut the thinking process so that it becomes almost instinctual, similar to our fight-or-flight reactions.
How do we run red lights in business? By doing the exact same thing – shutting down our thinking processes and letting unfounded beliefs and assumptions guide our decisions and actions.
Running a red light in business involves making key decisions based on all the things we assume to be true but never take the time to verify. It’s the way we treat customers without ever checking to see if that’s how they want to be treated. It’s the way we think about the competition without doing any real research. It’s all the things about our businesses that we take for granted because we have always known them to be true.
For example, “Our competition will never catch up to us. We’re too good.” Or, “We’ll never be able to match our competitor’s cost structure.” Or, “We don’t have to worry about global competition; we’re a regional company.”
Running red lights with customers sounds like, “We can’t do that. The market isn’t ready for it.” Or, “Our customers will never accept a price increase.” Or, “We don’t have to innovate because no one else can do what we do.” Or even, “Because that’s the way we have always done it…”
Where’s the logic in that kind of thinking?
The only certainty in today’s markets is ongoing, often disruptive change. Rather than simply reacting to that change, we need to pause (stop at the red light), think (check our underlying thought bubbles while waiting for the light to change) and then (when we have real data to support our conclusions) put the pedal to the metal (and stay within the speed limit of course). Constantly running red lights may seem like we’re going faster. In reality, it means we’re an accident waiting to happen and when it does, it slows us down considerably.
The next time you’re tempted to run a red light in your business or in your car, take a moment to think about what’s really important. Check your thought bubbles! The right decision could be a lifesaver for you and your business.
Holly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.