A Freshness Failure

What’s your greatest fear?  Public Speaking? Heights?  Confined Spaces?

True confessions time…I have a paralyzing fear of food gone bad.

Sure, you may find it humorous, but it’s very real for me.  Anytime I see an item in the refrigerator that is even near its expiration date, I skeptically sniff.  I crinkle my nose.  I turn a wary eye toward the temperature gauge, wondering if the refrigerator was cold enough to do the job.  It all stems from an episode that my family refers to as “The Millennium Biscuit Incident.” 

Sometime in 2003, while tasting a breakfast lovingly made by my wife, I commented on the slightly-more-than-golden-brown biscuit on my plate.  I took a bite.

“Are these whole wheat biscuits, or something?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she answered.  “Why?”

As I felt the substance melt in my mouth like a fistful of sand, I noticed the package on the counter.  Expiration date:  Jan 2000.  I had literally swallowed the Y2K bug.  Ever since that day, I have a bias for all things fresh and new.

And so do you.

It’s called the “recency bias” and we often fall victim.  When making decisions we tend to attribute greater weight or importance to recent events than those that happened longer ago.  And therefore, we fail to question appropriately.   For instance, each time a cruise ship experiences a problem while at sea the entire industry suffers through reduced tourism for months until the event becomes a distant memory.

A new software vendor has a solution to greatly enhance our business, and they have an impeccable track record dealing with companies similar to ours.  But we immediately dismiss them because a recent implementation with an unrelated, little-known firm was disastrous. 

And with the Great Recession fresh in our minds, we fail to invest in necessary resources, even though most indicators point to continued growth.

So how do we overcome our irrational thinking in decision making?

  1. Separate Fact from Emotion:  Even if a recent failure created overwhelming negative perceptions, uncover its actual impact on your bottom line.  Often you find that the real damage was minimal.
  2. Look at Trends:  Is the recent event consistent with results from the past, or is it a blip on the radar?
  3. Probe the Positives:  Recent successes can be dangerous as well.  Companies have invested untold resources into unproven products after a promising pilot.  Remember that sustained success often requires different skills than short-term wins.    Plan accordingly.

Our company has over thirty years of experience in helping organizations employ time-tested processes that encourage effective questioning, leading to sustained success.  If you are looking for ways to improve the thinking in your organization, just give us a call at (800) 386-5611.  We would love to hear from you.







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