Avoidance. Sounds innocuous. But isn’t: In fact, it’s a problem. In management as in life. (Come to think of it: To put it that way, to talk of »management« on the one hand and of «life« on the other, makes management and life sound like polar opposites, as in work-life-balance – which it shouldn’t be at any rate, not even in the balance thing). Now, why should avoidance be a problem? Of course: Because, by avoidance, something is left undone, which we tend to dismiss: We want things be done, we want ends meet. But then: Isn’t there a good, a useful variety of avoidance? Clearly, there is, like in: Avoiding a trap. Which is a slightly different thing: By avoiding a trap, we do not »do nothing« – in the contrary: We are in an intense mode of action. But how to discern the various kinds of avoidance, the good from the bad ones, the non-acting from the decidedly active ones? How to discern a trap from, let’s say, a chance? A risk from a learning experience? As the saying goes (and the song): Fools rush in where angels fear to tread – is it as easy as that? Are there situations (»traps«, »risks«) worth treading – for the sake of experience? And is it always for reasons of caution, of wisdom even, we avoid doing things? Might there be other reasons as well, convention, anxiety, anger, even: Shame? Let’s have a look.
As a rule: Avoidance stifles learning. But then, there’s lots of things we’d better want to avoid, even if it were at a loss of learning. Take accidents while driving, for instance. We shouldn’t want to provoke accidents – just for reasons of learning. But then – consider this: Back in the good old days of space travel; in the golden days of preparing for moon landing, to be precise, nobody knew how to do exactly this: land on the moon. Nobody knew what it’s like on the moon. With all the atmosphere missing. Nobody knew how a flying object behaves, in no-air and descending. Not even did one know how moon’s surface should feel. How the surface should act while putting a pretty heavy object (despite all the tiresome leaving-unnecessary-and-even-some-necessary-parts-away sessions for weight reduction) in what looks like sand (as seen from earth). Given all the »we-don’t-knows«, adding some »we-can’t-say-for-sures« and stating very few »we-think-it-should-be-like-that–,–more-or-less«, what Nasa did is build a sophisticated contraption to train for moon landing. Gave it a name, too: LEM (for Lunar Excursion Module). Now, the guy to do the landing was, famously, Neil Armstrong. And while he was many things, one thing he wasn’t: an Avoider. So once, while simulation-descending, Neil would slam the LEM-contraption down, way below moon’s (again: simulated) surface. Much to the horror of his fellow astronauts. And his fellow scientists, too, watching the shocking scene. Did it just to learn: What can go wrong? How do the instruments react? Can we rely on what they state to be the case? The problem? Neil commented: If we don’t know it all? If we don’t want to know what we don’t want to happen? How can we ever be sure? Here is what we mean to say: Would avoidance really have been better? Just to avoid – wreaking (simulated) havoc?
Now, isn’t it risks we have to avoid? Instead of go for them, invite them, try them out? With difficult questions, and with easy ones, too, always ask Peter Drucker. Who says: Of course it is by no means the business of managers to go for risk. But it is decidedly their business to learn what risks are »out there«. Assess them. Learn if and how they can be avoided. Finally: Decide if action may be taken (not: risked!). Or stopped. Know how we call it, avoidance? We call it: »Behavior-inhibiting Thinking«. The opposite of avoidance – the avoidance of avoidance? »Behavior-activating Thinking«. Bulky expressions? Perhaps. But bulky with an impact. Call. For more!