Monday 7 March 2016

Buyhaviour 7: Fight or Flight Heuristic

It's three thousand years ago. You're out hunting; you spear an antelope. You edge towards it, but as you approach you spot a stranger. He's stalking the same prize, ready to maul you should you try and take his dinner. What do you do?

Fast forward a few millennia. You're in the boardroom selling in your ideas to your CD, suits and planners. Another team, who're after the same prize, take aim and, like the spear to the antelope, tear it apart. What do you do?

With both, you have two options. Fight or flight. An instinct passed down from our ancestors' jungles to our modern boardrooms. And, now, possibly our single biggest barrier to creating great work.

Without friction there's no fire. And, like Yates said: "education is not the filling of a pail, it's the lighting of a fire". 

We've been hardwired to avoid conflict. To think it's bad. To take it all personally. We're all haunted by this lingering instinct that gets our necks up. 

Bill Shakespeare explored it in Hamlet, too: Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms and by opposing end them. 

In other words, to say nothing and consider yourself noble (take flight with the excuse that you're the bigger person), or to fight for your work and end any disagreement. 

With conflict groups in qual research, finding two groups diametrically opposed to an issue results in impassioned thrusts and parries - making them a goldmine for insights. 

But, here's the thing: now that we're civilised - and because we're all grown ups - it doesn't have to be one or the other. This instinct that served us so well for so long is now obsolete. Worse, it's a handicap. 

Conflict is where thinking gets sharp; tension where insights found, and chaos where creativity is cradled. 

I can't find a reference of it being referred to as an heuristic before, but it certainly has all the hallmarks. It's an irrational system 1 shortcut we have to overcome in an evolved world. 

And it's the people that shed it first - who don't take everything personally, or make things personal - who'll enjoy an upper-hand over the rest of us. 

So, next time you feel that lump form in the back of your throat, your stomach start to swell and that nagging in the back of your mind getting louder; spear it dead and speak your mind.

Explore more of the Buyhaviour series here:

Buyhaviour Series: An Introduction 
Buyhaviour 1: Availability Bias 
Buyhaviour 2: Status Quo Bias 
Buyhaviour 3: Confirmation Bias 
Buyhaviour 4: Conjunction Fallacy 
Buyhaviour 5: The Spotlight Effect
Buyhaviour 6: The Matthew Effect  
Buyhaviour 7: Fight or Flight Heuristic
Buyhaviour 8: Imposter Phenomenon 
Buyhaviour 9: Red Queen Hypothesis 

Christopher Ott