Acts of Omission vs. Commission
The risk of doing nothing is now greater than the risk of doing something (even if it fails). Yet, many individuals and organizations remain paralyzed in thought. Then, they wake up and find that they are no longer relevant; not because of what they did do, but because of what they did not do.
Acts of commission are easy to understand. Simply put, it’s the decision to do something. In 1961, when John F. Kennedy declared that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, that was an act of commission. He committed to a goal, and a subsequent set of actions to complete the goal. When you read the history, it is clear that at the time he made the promise, the US had no idea how it would accomplish the goal. In fact, all the data pointed to the fact that they could not: engineering problems with the lunar module, multiple fires resulting in deaths, and numerous failed attempts. But, the act of commission, changed it all.
Acts of omission are less easy to understand, because they are rarely documented (who records things that never happened?). The need for Kennedy’s act of commission was born out of years of omission: a lack of decision or a decision to do nothing. In 1957, the Soviet Union surprised the world by launching the first satellite, known as Sputnik. As many were enamored by the accomplishment, the United States was perplexed. A decade prior, it had ended World War II, showcasing itself as perhaps the most technologically advanced nation. Yet, now in 1957, it was suddenly way behind, perhaps to the point of never being able to catch up. Such is an act of omission; the United States could have done something, could have made a decision, and could have been first. Instead, the act of omission had created the largest risk of all: relevance.
Critics write about acts of commission every day; what someone did and how it went great or how it did not work at all. Human nature revels in these stories of victory and defeat. But the real stories lie at the point of a decision, where an act of omission occurs. The omission comes in the form of choosing status quo or perhaps just deferring a decision or not even considering possible options. In these cases, the lack of a decision is the same thing as a decision, just a bad one.
Next week, every organization, team, and company will decide to take some concrete actions. They will look at the data, synthesize options, and make a decision. But, the greatest risk lies in the items that they are ignoring, deferring, or simply deciding they are too hard. Those are the acts of omission, and they lead to irrelevance.