My poor car! A few days ago the yellow low-oil indicator light came on. I pulled over, took out the manual and read the details. The manufacturer essentially says when this light comes on your oil is low, but not critically low, drive to where you can get the problem fixed. My husband, a.k.a. the car whisperer, found the problem, tightened the loose oil filter and added more oil. While idling in the driveway the yellow light went off and we were happy. He did say, should the red no-oil light come on pull over immediately, it means the engine is out of oil.
That afternoon I jumped in my car to run some errands and 3 minutes down the road the dreaded red no-oil light flickers on. I looked for a place to pull over and coasted to the side of the read. The car sounded fine. No temperature gauge was normal. For a second I deliberate whether to stay right there or try for the 3 minute trip back home; back to safety. No knocking, no smoke, no other lights so I head for home. When I pull into the driveway I realized I made the wrong decision. Some smoke was wafting up from the corners of the hood and I could distinctly smell burning engine. My poor, poor car.
I have been thinking a lot about that decision. That split-second decision could end up costing me tens of thousands of dollars as years of life may have been taken off my car. I knew I was supposed to pull over immediately. Why did I head for home? This is what I think happened. When threatened I headed for safety. No matter that I was in no real physical jeopardy; there was no real threat. Additionally, the pull off on that country highway was perfectly safe. Irregardless not having working wheels seemed like threat at the time and home seemed safer than out there stranded on the road.
When we are threatened we seek safety
It is a natural reaction. The problem is this natural reaction doesn’t help us too much in the business world. The reactions that work so well in the animal kingdom do not play out well with members, online visitors or attendees. Here are some counter productive ways that we seek safety when we perceive threats in business situations:
We protect ourselves
One member finds a way to game the system. They took advantage of the association. We feel mad and tricked. We vow not to let that happen again so we institute policies, write procedures and declare rules. It works! We are never taken advantage of in that way again. However by not trusting our members we drive a small wedge between us and them. By throwing bureaucracy at them we have severed a bit of trust and a bit of connection.
We hunker down
Times are bad. Revenues are down. The economy is still hurting. Members are not renewing. Many organizations fold in and hunker down. Slash all expenses and hope we can wait until members are buying again. A study featured in the Harvard Business Review says that the hunker down impulse is absolutely wrong. So is throwing around money like a drunken sailor. The companies that fair best are the ones that strike a balance between taking advantage of operational efficiencies and smart investing in marketing and innovation.
We ask the wrong questions
Perceived threats make us focus on us. We get defensive. Our viewpoint is colored to see a threat instead of an opportunity. The problem is our negative viewpoint is already stacking the cards against us. How we frame a problem frames the solution. When we focus on the threat we look internally and focus on revenue, member statistics, etc. The best solutions, however, come from focusing externally. What are our members’ problems? How can we help them solve their problems?
The next time I’m feeling stressed I’m going to take break to figure out if I’m in that threat/safety cycle again. If I am, perhaps the decision I feel most compelled to make is exactly the wrong decision to make.
Incidentally, all that angst was over a faulty oil filter. The smoke and smell was from the oil that spurted all over the engine. A new oil filter is in place along with another couple of glugs of oil. The engine got a good washing. No indicator lights are flashing and I am happy.