All posts by Abby Vige

Don’t Let Your Action Bias Take Control Of Your Career

What is this motivating force that continually drives us? The answer could be – action bias.

Recently I found myself in unfamiliar territory; I had reached the bottom of the barrel. There was no big project to immediately sink my teeth into. I had achieved the unthinkable, I had achieved the workplace equivalent of clocking Facebook, there were no more stories to load.

Like any staffer worth their salt I was able to quickly fill that barrel back up but the level of discomfort that I felt stuck with me. It boarded on anxiety. I started pondering… what is this motivating force that continually drives me? The answer could be – action bias.

Action Bias

The term Action Bias comes from a 2007 study of penalty kicks in football “an analysis of penalty kicks shows that the optimal strategy for goalkeepers is to stay in the goal’s centre. Goalkeepers, however, almost always jump right or left. This implies that a goal scored yields worse feelings for the goalkeeper following inaction (staying in the centre) than following action (jumping), leading to a bias for action.”

A large part of my driving force within the workplace can be characterised by ambition, the desire to do a good job, to achieve outcomes, to deliver and “complete” but also to keep busy. It’s the last part that made me reflect.

Is keeping busy always a good thing?

We all have colleagues in the workplace that are constantly busy, the never ending flurry of shuffling papers, or the ghost colleague that is always in meetings and seemingly only comes back to the desk to sigh. Rationally we know that being busy doesn’t correlate directly to the quality or output of a person’s work but as a society we generally buy into the belief that being busy is a good thing.

The other recognisable “busy bee” is the creative thinker, the fire type, the fast paced ideas guy or gal. The negative association with these action orientated people is that they can shoot first and ask questions later, they jump to conclusions and engage in solution mode before deep analysis has taken place. While this is most certainly not a bad thing, it can be if done 100 per cent of time.

It could be proposed that the drive and motivation behind being busy is really just a societal acceptance of action bias.

So what happens when we stop? What happens when we take time to think?

What are the alternatives to being busy?

Looking at the items in the barrel, I realised that the new additions were improvements and value add’s and the bonus is that they are now captured in my work programme amongst the demand driven projects received directly from the business. The tendency towards action bias worked for me in this instance but I don’t think it should be my default.

Being busy can be characterised with a certain type of pace; moving fast and being stressed.

But, when you break it down being busy is about working towards a goal at a consistent pace that delivers the results you require. By reframing busyness in this way you can see the fast action and stress as a symptom of the belief system – be kinder to yourself. It is important to schedule time for strategic thinking and brainstorming that extends beyond the near future.

It is important to find time to think of new projects that deliver value to the business. It is important to think beyond the scope of “work” and perhaps the most shocking of all, it can be as simple as going for a walk and getting some fresh air.  Taking time to pause and go for a stroll in the sun is perhaps the most productive thing that we can do.