Thursday, December 23, 2021



There's a story that Prakash Iyer shares in his book "Habit of Winning" which stayed with me ever since i heard it.

The team of scholars in Israel studied 286 penalty kicks from major league football games. A few facts about penalty kicks- a) Goalkeepers get 0.1 seconds to react b) Kick distance is 11 m.
In 0.1 sec, the goalkeeper has to commit to a dive- left or right. The research team tracked the direction of the kick (left, right and center) and tabulated the statistics. And what they found: a goalkeeper's best chance of stopping a penalty kick is if he doesn’t dive and stays put in the center!
Though the probability of stopping a kick is the highest when the goalkeeper did not move, the team found that in 92% of the cases, the goalkeeper committed himself to a dive to the either side. Why then do they dive, when standing still would give them their best chance of success!

Even though 'bias for action' is a desirable trait in most of the situations, it turns out that, in certain situations 'no action' is more effective.

In 2014, Square had built a little card reader and was charging the lowest (at that time) for it's service. Many small businesses were using its reader and were happy. At this juncture, Amazon entered the card reader market by making a slightly better reader that solved one pain-point that Square reader had. It also offered a cheaper card reader. To respond to this existential threat, Square could have change it's reader but didn't do it as they would have compromised one of its core value: beautiful design.

Instead of competing, Square decided to do nothing. Yes. nothing! They preferred to stick to their values and principles. And they eventually prevailed. (Story adapted from the book: The Innovation Stack).

Shreyas Doshi's brilliant thread helps reason the value of 'no action' decision more succinctly. He talks about the difference between busy problem solving and effective problem solving. (summary in my sketchnote as well). In my hypothesis, the cultures than promote ‘bias for action’ (which includes most of the modern companies) implicitly promote busy problem solving.

Effective problem solving may look elaborate and time-consuming but it helps reap long-term rewards. It shuns instant gratification mindset. Strategies based solely on busy problem solving will eventually result in many false positives i.e. you end up solving problems that needn't be solved or could have been deferred.

Not all situations demand us to really commit to an action. Knowing when not to act is an underrated aspect of work and is equally important.

What do you think ?

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