The Ostrich Effect

You may have been told not to be an ostrich and “put your head in the sand.” You may even have heard of the Ostrich Effect. 

The term derives from the (false) narrative that ostriches stick their head in the ground to avoid danger. The ostrich (incorrectly) reasons that not seeing danger makes it go away. In the business world, the Ostrich Effect describes situations in which one avoids unpleasant realities by pretending they don’t exist or by actively avoiding sources of unpleasant news. In other words, ignorance is bliss. 

We all choose to be subject to the Ostrich Effect at some point in our lives/careers. For example, a struggling business owner may also choose to not read the paper or watch the news. Bad economic news stresses them out. They put off talking to an unproductive, negative employee or underestimate the threat of a new competitor. 

The Ostrich Effect could also mean postponing a dreaded meeting with the accountant or refusing to open a potential negative email. It could even be as dangerous as ignoring the concerns of line workers who warn about the impending failure of essential equipment.

Not acknowledging current circumstances makes it easy to focus on day-to-day operations. However, these actions will put a business’s long-term success at risk. While succumbing to the Ostrich Effect can be a hard habit to break, business professionals can take a few deliberate actions to keep their heads out of the sand. 

  1. Make informed decisions: Don’t use a lack of information as an excuse to avoid decision-making. Do your research and solicit multiple opinions to make the best possible choice.
  2. Identify, screw up your courage and face your fears:  This one is easier said than done and it can be painful. Don’t allow avoidance to control you. Instead, address that thing you’ve been dreading and with it. If you find yourself unable to cope with certain realities or your fight-or-flight mechanism is stuck on “flight,” it may help to seek out professional counseling.
  3. Look to others for support: Salem has an incredible network of professionals who can offer advice in difficult times. If you’ve had a problem in your business, chances are someone else has gone through something similar.

Business is never easy. However, not facing your problems will undoubtedly, make the situation worse. 

 

Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE, is the CEO of VanNatta PR, public relations, event planning and consulting firm in Salem, Oregon.

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