Thursday, February 22, 2024

Why Do We Miss Key Opportunities?

Why do we miss key opportunities at times in our careers?  Sometimes, it may have to do with the type of opportunity we encounter.  Suppose we have to decide whether to pursue a course of action which could have a positive outcome, but it has a very low probability of a successful result.  Harvard's Emily Prinsloo and her co-authors have published an interesting new paper exploring what they call "opportunity neglect."   Through a series of studies, they show that individuals  systematically fail to take advantage of low-probability opportunities, even when the costs of an unsuccessful outcome are quite low.   In fact, they demonstrate that, "people are even willing to incur costs to opt out of low-probability opportunities."   

Why do people fail to take advantage of these opportunities?   Perhaps, we anticipate the emotions that we will experience if we fail, and we are trying to avoid those negative feelings.  We might not only worry about how we are going to feel, but about how others will perceive us if we don't achieve a successful outcome.  

The question is:  Are we over-estimating the negative repercussions of an unsuccessful outcome?  Do we anticipate the negative emotions lasting much longer than they actually will?  Are we exaggerating the reputational hit we might take if we don't succeed?  

In writing about this research for BPS Digest, Emma Young recalls the famous Wayne Gretzky quote: ”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”   Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that pursuing stretch goals is worthwhile.  In fact, there may be a great deal of fulfillment associated with taking on big challenges.  Moreover, we should recall what Daniel Pink wrote about in his excellent book, The Power of Regret.  Pink notes that people tend to experience more regret in life about paths they did not pursue than actions they undertook.   

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