Yes, Inaction is a Decision (and a Poor One)

As the world emerges from the pandemic, one thing has become clear. Those companies that moved and pushed themselves during the lockdown are better positioned to take advantage of the increasing consumer demand. Those that stayed still hoping that everything would go away on its own will struggle. Unfortunately, some companies chose inaction, and that decision may prove to be fatal in the future.

It’s sometimes easier to put off deciding while we “collect more information” or “sleep on it.” Prudence is fine but remembers that inaction is a decision. Even if we don’t actively decide, we already made the decision. Inaction can be one of the worst decisions because we don’t control the outcomes. Simply letting things play out can be a stress-inducing recipe.

Do note that inaction is different from dealing with reasonable risk. Every day, we make decisions that put us in harm’s way. We drive to work, we get on airplanes, and we interact with other humans. In any of these situations, we could face high levels of risk and even death. Car crashes, flying accidents, and even pandemics are around us all the time. If we only took action whenever there was no risk, we would never leave our house or even our room!

There are also situations where you gauge the risk of a decision, and you will conclude that the risk is worthwhile or low enough to deal with it. Think about fire safety. If a building or our home caught fire, it could be devastating. We don’t live in paralysis at the thought that at any moment, we may find ourselves in the middle of a fire. Instead, we take reasonable actions by putting water sprinklers and fire alarms into our homes and buildings. If a fire takes place, we hope that these measures would be sufficient.  

Inaction tends to be associated with highly emotional or uncertain decisions. Think about climate change and how uncertain and complex this challenge is. For most countries, it requires a seismic shift in the design of their economies. For example, a country like Germany needs to figure out what to do with industries like coal, making up 35% of their energy sources as of late 2020. How do you shift all the workers and companies that operate in this space while also dealing with climate change? 

The answers aren’t easy, and it’s much easier to do nothing than figure it out. Germany, for its credit, is doing their best to hit its emission targets. They have found ways of shutting down mines, finding work for laid-off workers, or offering them retirement packages. Germany has been in the process of phasing out coal for more than 40 years. 

In your life, take stock of areas where inaction has been the primary decision. It’s not helpful to beat ourselves up as to why we didn’t do something. Instead, we need to look for patterns and try to uncover new ways of doing something. Ask yourself the following questions to better understand why these areas have led to inaction:

  • Are there any noticeable patterns in these areas? They could all be in your personal life or related to the same people or similar situations.
  • Why was inaction easier than making a decision?
  • Are there high emotions associated with this decision?
  • Do I have a high level of confidence in the potential outcomes of this decision?

Inaction also gets tougher with time. The longer that we have been putting off a decision, the harder it can feel. So the first step is recognizing where inaction is taking place and then deciding what needs to happen to get out of this loop.

One more thing before you go! Do you know how to get more insights out of your data? 

All companies are sitting on a goldmine of data that they haven't fully explored. It's not about technology or capturing more data. The key is to learn how to make the most of your current data and convert it into actionable insights. This is the main idea behind my first book, The Data Miage: Why Companies Fail to Actually Use Their Data

I'm excited to announce the release of the book through all major retailers. If you're interested, you can download the first chapter for free using the form below. You'll learn what the best data-driven companies do differently and how to make sure you're playing the right data game.