Friday, May 05, 2006

Dread Not

Fascinating study making news today - it seems that feelings of dread are, in rough terms, a kind of pain, and a fair number of people will engage in irrational behavior to alleviate this pain. The experiment itself is sinister: Subjects are told they are going to get an electric shock, and if they wait longer the shock will be less painful. Apparently a decent number of subjects dread the prospect of a shock so much that they are willing to take a more painful shock now in exchange for eliminating the dread of the shock occuring later.

Like most people faced with an unpleasant task, I'd rather get it over with sooner rather than later. Of course, that may have less to do with dread than with the fact that in the real world the pain/unpleasantness is almost always greater the longer one waits to face it. I'm fascinated that, at least for some people, getting rid of the dread as quickly as possible is worth taking more (physical) pain.

Does this translate to decision-making in business? In cases like Enron or WorldCom hope (or hubris, or crookedness) led businesses and their leaders to delay taking the pain until it is too late and the negative impacts had mushroomed. But what about those businesses that ruthlessly weed out uncertainty, say, at the expense of promising new initiatives or technologies with uncertain paybacks or markets? Is this efficiency, or is uncertainty the corporate version of dread?

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