The Inertia of Uncertainty

Inertia (n)  –
Resistance or disinclination to motion, action, or change
(American Heritage Dictionary)

Someone once said to me, “What’s amazing about Napster is not how fast it grew, but rather how slow it grew, given the fact that it removed all barriers to obtaining something that all people enjoy — music”. Why did it grow so slowly?  There are many reasons ranging from legal or moral concerns through simply not knowing exactly how to set it up. People come up with reasons to resist change.

This is a barrier that all innovators have to overcome – the uncertainty others feel about whether or not something will work multiplied by the amount that they actually need something to improve in that area of their life.  As an inventor or innovator, we become enamored with the product or service we can provide.  We understand it’s benefits and bask in them. We believe that if we just explain  to a customer why this is so great, they would naturally switch.  Unfortunately, this often frustratingly, falls on deaf ears; even Google has this problem in trying to oust Outlook.

By our very nature, we figure out a way to make our lives work.  There are always things in our lives that aren’t working as well as we wish, but most things are satisfactory.  When someone approaches us about how to entertain ourselves in a new way, we’re wary.  The old way was satisfying, and so there isn’t much need to change.  This is why selling pain killers is easier than vitamins.  People will take action if it will eliminate their pain.  Now you can sell vitamins better if  you can scare people enough about taking vitamins, that suddenly the vitamins become the painkiller of  fear.

However, when we are truly uncertain of what course of action to take, and when there is a myriad of uncertainty around us, it only solidifies our position of not changing.  People find it easier to NOT decide, then to decide to take an action that may not solve the problem.  This non-decision is, in itself, a decision, but as humans it is the default course of action.  Like a deer in the headlights, when we feel scared, we often take no action at all, even if it’s to our own destruction.

Uncertainty breeds complacency, and as a result, things change far more slowly than the technologist thinks they will. If we are satisfied with something, we are likely to not want to try something that will be incrementally better and instead stick with what we know.  If you are trying to sell people on something new, the potential benefits have to be large enough or hit  a pain point that makes your customer focus on trying something new.






3 responses to “The Inertia of Uncertainty”

  1. […] aspect of this, that ties in with a previous post on the Inertia of Uncertainty, is that when we are presented with too many choices (i.e. someone offers to let you sample 20 […]

  2. […] this is the very time that you can truly make a difference in a company. To avoid the inertia of uncertainty, and instead drive results that help the company grow.  It’s not easy, but living in fear […]

  3. […] as I mentioned earlier (“Inertia of Uncertainty”), as time passes, we, as leaders, stop noticing the things that we wish were different. As a […]

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