That’s The Biology That Turns Decision Makers into Quitters

Fortune magazine just reported about resignation of Visa’s CEO Charlie Scharf, which caused a big deal of surprise since “Visa’s stock has been such a stellar performer”. Earlier this year Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and billionaire, revealed that his giant eCommerce business has been the biggest mistake in his life.

In August of 2014, a famous American actor Robin Williams committed suicide at the age of 63. Michael Jackson died in 2009 supposedly because of drug overdose.

What made these great people quit in their own way?

Tons of reasons may result in decisions to change the job, relocate, get married, file for divorce, and end life.

Quitting is just another way to alter the current state of things.

Is it the best one? Human biology that predetermines many of our reactions does not care about rationality. Chicago school of economics, Max Weber and rational choice theory are not critical for our survival.

The Story of My Disease

It all started with a reluctance to stick to the schedule I meticulously make for myself every morning. You should know that I don’t procrastinate. Inconsistency is not my flaw. Despite this, out of 7–10 phone talks I initially planned for a week, I was able to conduct only a few. Several weeks later I gave up.

After some thinking, I decided that I chose the wrong focus in our attempts to onboard more analytics projects as opposed to marketing clients.

Back in 2014 we started Kraftblick to provide analytics services and named the company accordingly. By now, it wasn’t all that shocking for us to set eyes on business intelligence and data science. Our team has significantly improved the way we approach data for decision making. Also, we have partnered with reliable IT firms to enrich intelligence, creativity and business orientation with coding and become technically mature.

Initially, my inability to focus on the plan mimicked depression or burnout. The idea of digging deeper into something very complex made me feel sore. I haven’t had a vacation in a while and blamed the habit of working overtime for my apathy.

The real cause of ‘depressive procrastination’ began to unfold after I realized that reading and writing were still enjoyable. I didn’t seek excuses not to read no matter how complex the reading was. It was neither depression nor burnout. Something else was involved.

A Few Books and One Reflective Practice After…

I took some time to figure out what was going on. My hobbies — neuroscience and cognitive psychology — came to my rescue. Dammit, I should have applied theories I once learned much earlier. I’d like to share them in my own metaphors.

There is some evidence to believe that we become quitters because of our own biology.

It means that less free will is involved in the process. In other words, our main decisions may be made not by true “us”.

#1: The Legacy of Cavemen

Our biological self is averse to delayed outcomes even when intellectual environment and high competition force us to execute patience.

To understand the logic, think of prehistoric times when there was no option to trail a prey and refrain from water for days. People had enough motivation to find a roof over their heads quickly because, otherwise, there might be no tomorrow.

Our biology hasn’t changed much since then. The little caveman living in each of us cries for immediate results as if a potential business deal guarantees life or puts to death.

#2: Dopamine Addiction

Dopamine is called the hormone of happiness. Life’s great when enough dopamine is circulating in our brain. The trick is that our internal reward system is dopaminergic, i.e. it runs on dopamine. Imagine that with every achievement a flood of dopamine is coming along, putting us on top of the world.

No achievements (or distant results) leave our reward system silent.

We unconsciously switch to short-term perspective to get our daily dose of dopamine.

Did it remind you of drug addiction? Indeed, a close relative of dopamine is cocaine, which acts the same way in our body as its natural-born sibling.

By the way, the suicide of Robin Williams could be primed by severe dopamine depletion, an underlying cause of Parkinson’s disease the actor suffered from.

#3: Fooled by The Gut Instinct

We take a big risk allowing our guts to control decisions we make. According to Daniel Kahneman and other social psychologists, cognitive ease produced by intuition is pleasant but not necessarily an indication of the correct direction.

If we trust our guts entirely, we’ll only be listening to our built-in System 1 which is fast, hugely automated and responsible for why people form stereotypes, quickly jump to conclusions and can’t keep their mouth shut.

For deliberate decisions we also need the System 2 — slow rational machine that endorses feedback from the System 1. Cognitive strain we experience is the hallmark of activated System 2 — contrary to the urban myth that it’s unnatural to choose the hardest way.

What To Do with Our Biology?

There’s no need to monitor dopamine level and suppress instincts each time you have to make a decision. After all, it is senses that navigate us through darkness and obscurity.

Just remember that you are a biological creature and some of mammalian instincts will keep haunting you for the rest of your life. The best you can do about it is to recognize when they are at play and make a choice — deal with them or let them run the show.


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My team and I deal with marketing every single day. We’ve discovered a number of secrets and little-known facts and we can’t help sharing them. Visit Kraftblick blog and say ‘hi’ to us. See you there!

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