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16 Feb 2015

Familiarity Meets Failure Often Without People Knowing Why

When it comes to music, we lean to the tunes we know. When it comes to solutions, we lean to the ones we know too. As Wray Herbert writes, often familiarity meets failure. It is because these solutions are mental shortcuts.

In our daily work, we hear them as “rules of thumb.” In psychology it is called the familiarity heuristic. It is one of the signs that we are likely creating more problems than we are solving.

People like to go with what they know, but that familiarity meets failure quite often.

Familiarity meets failure quite often because it causes people to fall into ruts.

Why Familiarity Meets Failure

It is easy to slough off. In fact, sloth is one of seven deadly sins in Catholicism. Sloths favor mental shortcuts. Work makes us and our lives better. Better means change. Familiarity means the same. It triggers our need for security, safety. As Herbert writes, “we are more apt to rely on these automatic judgments when we’re under pressure.”

Going with familiarity means we will find ourselves in a rut someday. When life is ever changing this is not good. It is neither good for our business nor us. Another key need for our happiness is newness. If we feel good, we do well. We are good leaders. Our businesses do well. Familiarity meets failure because it takes all of this from us.

Avoiding Familiarity

Since a sloth seeks familiarity, avoiding it is effort then. For example, did we define a problem so it would fit a familiar solution? These tips will keep our lives and businesses successful:

Sloths do not do any of these. That is why familiarity meets failure where sloths lounge.

Here is a test. Listen to new music. Try a new type. Try a new artist from a rarely heard genre. Go to a different music station. Stay away from your favorite, your familiar. The longer this takes to do, the more likely we are to look up from the bottom of a rut one day. Warning, it is hard to do.

2 Responses

  1. The phrase I picked up from a conference is “Embrace Ambiguity.” It battles the temptation to rely on familiarity that can as you note (liked the Wray Herbert link by the way) can easily lead to failure. I particularly like the inclusion of “embrace” as it’s not enough to acknowledge ambiguity; we must take hold of it and work to understand / deal / with it! I read and commented on a Rebel Brown post (Why the First Answer Isn’t the Best Answer) with the same message in many ways as this post of yours.

    In my comments to the Rebel Brown post, I mentioned that students are all too often led to believe that textbook and classroom examples represent every approach to situations encountered. If they just familiarize themselves with these examples, they are prepared for successful careers… Tasks such as brainstorming, thinking, considering (http://johncbennettjr.com ), creating, deciding, … are not needed. In K-???, effective learning and effective problem solving skills must be facilitated to have a capable workforce.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Yes, John, embrace ambiguity. What I find particularly interesting is that if we are not conscious of it we essentially choose to be in a rut by choosing the familiar. What I find amazing is that everyone realizes life requires work but that doesn’t seem to apply to thought only to physical effort. Leo Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina, had a character quote a French verse, “No one is satisfied with his fortune, but everyone is satisfied with his wit.” Part of the problem is that we often confuse knowledge with thinking.

      All I can say is that you’re right about the need for effective learning and problem-solving skills.

      By the way, John, I want to thank you for your help in making this blog so helpful. On Monday, I will publish my 500th post so it’s a landmark for me, a time for reflection :). I have appreciated your help and insights.

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