Since action is what creates value, what are the factors that lead to action? For all the behavioral and market study on the subject, it seems, we still don't agree.
Here are some of the many expert opinions:
1.) Response to Pain
One view suggests that action depends on whether or not a problem is too large to comprehend, and whether or not there is real pain to motivate one to do something about it.
Tom Lowe, who studies mass responses to mass communication, says that once we are of the opinion that a situation is of a scale beyond our control, we stop in our tracks. Like a pointing dog paralyzed on a scent, we can't move until something else gives. In other words, even if we can imagine pain, we won't prevent it. It is not until we experience pain that we are motivated to move, and then our movements are often rash and instinctive.
One might suggest then, that this is really a discussion about how many ways we can do nothing or at least very little.
2.) Response to Risk
Dr. Peter Sandman, who works with public health officials, proposes that action connected to risk is driven by the simple formula
Risk = Hazard + Outrage
... which leads to his idea that “When hazard is high and outrage is low, people under react; and when hazard is low, and outrage is high, they overreact”.
A few years ago, while evaluating the North American electric generator market for a client, we applied Dr. Sandman's formula to explain sales that had a clear negative economic value but still occurred, and accounted for a significant percent of the market that could only be explained in emotional terms.
Markets have a way of removing emotionally driven actions after a time.
This still doesn't explain motivation, or drive to act.
Maslow's oft-cited hierarchy of needs suggests that if you are fed and warm, and if have a support group and some self-confidence, only then you are in a position to attack and solve problems. It's an old idea that doesn't hold up to scrutiny: What explains when people solve the problems of hunger and cold? Surely the Inuit didn't depend on a well-fed, well-educated consultant to help them decide upon ice as a building block for a warm home. Or better, what inspires entrepreneurship, and all of its inherent risks to self? Why would someone bet a career on an unproven idea? What explains the existence of creativity and problem solving in both urgent and non-urgent situations? Have we evolved these behaviors?
Hmmmm. Obviously, not all decisions and subsequent actions are rote, in response to pain or fear, incorrectly proportioned or tied to the survival instinct. What else is there? Why do some teams always seem to be moving forward?
Wonder and wanderlust
Sometimes simple inquisitiveness -- the need to know -- drives us, and in the process of learning, we create. The chief characteristic of action-oriented companies is that they allow this to happen. They build cultures and systems that value probing and listening. They make room for trial and error in both their processes, and on their balance sheets. They look for people who are interested and willing to explore.
In times of unpredictable change, or when negative news is all we hear, it is important to remember that value comes from our desire to sort through problems and do something about them.
In both urgent and non-urgent situations, creative problem solving comes from understanding and associated confidence. Lacking that, we either speculate or grasp for straws.
The foundation for profitable action is understanding that doing is the natural consequence of thinking. If we take time to think, chances are we'll act.