Whether a recipe, a hairstyle, an app, business strategy, vacation destination, joke, or anything else, when we experiment with something new and it works out well, we feel the thrill of discovery. We get that hit of dopamine in our brain’s reward center.
Even though we know that experimentation can be fun and lead to new discoveries, insights, and wisdom, we are often reluctant to experiment. All experiments involve risk, and not everyone embraces risk.
The danger of resisting experimentation is that you will stick with the same processes and techniques past the point of where they stopped working. This eventually leads to stagnation. By the time we reach a threshold where we have had enough, we are often stuck in multiple places and we don’t even know what to change first.
Here are five reasons why we resist or avoid experimentation in the various areas of our life and business.
We are creatures of habit: when we find something that works — whether a recipe, a workflow, strategy, or style — we tend to stick with it. It feels efficient. It can give us confidence. It becomes part of our routine, entrained into the way we operate.
On an organizational level, a process or method of operating can become so entrenched that the decision-makers lose sight of alternative approaches. They fall victim to the syndrome of that’s the way we’ve always done it.
(2) Need for Certainty
The need for certainty is one of the core human needs that drives our behavior.
We want to know that our joke will land, that our cake will come out well, or that our home will sell quickly. We want to do things the “right” way — optimized, maximized, most effective, most efficient.
If we are investing our focus, assets, time, and energy (our “FATE,” as Todd Henry calls it) into something, we want to know that we will get the results we desire.
If we have high certainty that the experiment will pay off, we are in. If not, we are less likely to take the risk.
(3) Fear of The Result
What if it doesn’t work out?
The fear of failure can be a paralyzing force. What will it mean if the experiment doesn’t pan out?
Equally as paralyzing is the fear of success.
What if it DOES work out?
Behind the fear of success or failure is often a fear regarding meaning. We may harbor the concern over:
What will other people think?
We may fear that they won’t understand what we are doing, that they won’t “get it,” or that they will think negatively of us. We may fear that they will think more highly of us, and that will set us up to disappoint them in the future.
Ultimately of these fears are not really about the result, but about what meaning we give to that result.
(4) Fear of Loss
Loss aversion is one of the biggest cognitive biases we face in our daily lives. Loss can mean loss of status, position, money, time, relationships, momentum, or anything else important to you.
One example is the fear of “wasting time.” Experiments are, by nature, uncertain. We have no guarantee that we will get the result we desire, or even a result we consider to be satisfactory. To invest time and energy without a guaranteed result can feel like the opposite of productivity.
We might hear the inner voice express concern:
What if I invest the time and I don’t get the result? Then I will have wasted the time.
The pain of potential loss is a greater motivating force than the prospect of potential gain. Even a small risk of loss can block us from experimentation.
(5) High Stakes
Our fears and resistance increase with the stakes of any experiment.
You may notice that you’re more likely to experiment with a new recipe or a new restaurant than with a new business strategy. As the perceived loss increases, the tolerance for risk decreases.
The bigger we perceive the stakes, the more we tend to fear that we won’t be able to easily change direction. We can fall victim to the illusion that any experiment sends us down a path from which we cannot retreat.
What are some other reasons you resist risk in your life and business?