Decisions Driven by Fear

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It's really interesting to study how people make decision, especially young adults that had been over-protected by their parents and the school system. Answers and solutions are very clear cut, or should I say cookie-cutter precise. Most adults have the habit of either not explaining the why's to a kid or to exaggerate the consequences of not doing what they were told. "Because I say so!", "If you fail in school, you'll end up digging ditches." A case of 1+1=2, and God help you if you think otherwise. Few take the time to carefully walk through the consequences of choices.

There are so many things going on in the life of an adult -work, sports, TV, cooking- that it is a lot less effort to use the easiest and fastest method to get obedience. That "instant" method is called fear. So much so, that if there are no immediate pain (burning a finger) we will create pain (spanking). (I have seen one incident where a child who narrowly escaped burning his finger got a spank for his good luck.)

Generations of such well-meaning parental love had turned fear into the oil that moved the cogs of our culture. Nuclear bombs, burglar alarms, death sentences, lying - you get the idea. Fear was meant to be a good thing; a defence mechanism against danger. But when fear makes us degrade our neighbour (his son has a tattoo, he must be doing drugs) and to stop our children from reaching their full potential (hockey sticks will break your skull) then it becomes a problem.

Every person is different, if we were all the same then we would all dress the same, eat the same food, drive the same car and fight over the same man. Everything in life would be monotonous, except for fighting over the same man part. There would be no point in travelling because you'll only spend money to go somewhere just like the place you left. Thank goodness we all don't think the same. If everyone believes that material possession is the only thing that matters in the world, we will not have prophets or saints or activist. And if soul-enlightenment was the only way to go, then we will not have commerce or roads or communications between cultures.

The culture of fear stems from the good intention of adults to see their children make the right choices in life. Yet this sense of rightness is based on the adult's opinion, not the child's. The most common example is parents wanting their kids to do well in school so they can get a well paying job in a successful organization. But what if the child was meant to be an entrepreneur or what if she wants to become a lawyer to the poor.

On the other hand there is the socially responsible parent who wants the child to become an environmentalist. But what if the child wants to be a CEO of a coal mining factory, is it wrong? A child becomes an individual from the time she can think for herself. That's when trouble starts and the easiest solution to that kind of trouble is fear.

The outcome of a fear culture is the need to avoid pain, even by lying if necessary. From a business point of view, it may mean that data collected by a single entity or person can be manipulated, though not always by the collector. Written records can be falsified, and some are innocent enough, for example the frequency of inspection or the number of operators working at any one time. Everyone must have heard of the worker who gets his friend to punch in for him. Then there is the employee who makes long distance personal calls and claimed that he was talking to a customer. Why do people lie? Fear of repercussions, fear of failure or fear of rejection and even fear of paying the phone bill for loving someone out of town.

How does this affect a manager's decision? Let's look at one situation where current inspection procedures require a frequency of ten units from every hundred units of gadgets. However, the actual practice in the line is four for every hundred units. [This could be due to a lot of issues; lack of manpower, high turnover target, or supervisor's instructions.] If the recording is written or keyed-into a system, then this information can be falsified by the people in the line.

Let's say a manager wants to reduce cost in his next budget. Since time equals money, he managed to get confirmation from his engineers that he can reduce inspection by half without compromising the quality of the products in-line. When he announces his decision, what will the people in the production line do? Since falsifying the record is the easy way out, the workers decided to cut down to two units inspection for every hundred. Nothing is going to happen to them anyway. Or at least, that is what they think.

Inspection is related to quality, which in turn is related to line stability. This means that if a problem can be detected early, then the process can be fixed and there will be less bad products. In fact, Quality is related to After Sales Service. "Fixing" a product will cost the company money, and too much fixing will give the brand a bad name. Hence if sales drop without any clear market reason or if sales become too expensive to maintain, the first suspect should be product quality.

The funny part (not for the manager of course) is that every one will think that he had made a wrong decision. To get out of this pickle, the manager will try to find a reason in the world or market situation that could have had adverse effect on his Sales. As the Shareholders' Meeting loomed closer, his analyst might make him say something like, "Plans for high sales of electric fans in Northern Europe failed because of the harsh winter this year. This unusually cold weather pattern was not expected in last year's Sales Forecast."

 

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