When bad things happen, we want to find a cause. This is a dangerous habit.
When something bad happens there can only be two scenarios:
1. There is someone or something that caused it and it is clear to everyone.
2. There does not seem to be any reason for it to have happened.
On the first case, we have to be careful jumping to conclusions. Nobel-prize winning researcher Daniel Kahneman points out in his book Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow that our brains have two systems.
System one is fast and intuitive and looks for causal links. It is the story part of our brains. It loves to look backward, connect events and create a plausible story. The problem is that it gets the story wrong. A lot.
System two is our slow brain. It is analytical and works out the problems. It can use probability and statistics. It realizes that sometimes the obvious answer is wrong. But it gets overrun by System One all the time.
So when Scenario 1 above happens, we jump to conclusions about the reasons. Someone trips on a curb and falls and breaks their wrist. The cause? Let’s look at a few options:
The curb. Is the curb built to standard height? Did someone take a shortcut? Is the concrete crumbling from a hard winter?
Or they were in a hurry. Why were they hurrying? Did the electricity go off and cause the alarm clock to shut off too? Were they out late on a drinking binge? Caring for a sick child?
Or they were wearing new shoes. Going to a job interview? For a new company? Or because they got fired? Why did they get fired?
As you can see, finding a real root cause is hard work. We should not jump to conclusions. Research alone won’t give us the picture. And averages don’t really work because it is a random event we are talking about. If it happens all the time, then it is easier to isolate.
What about Scenario 2 above?
I’d like to propose there is only one scenario when dealing with a seemingly random event. We don’t know the real cause. Ever. Especially in random events. And this is hard. Especially when the event is bad for someone.
So, what do we do when something bad happens? I’d like to propose a simple response.
Why wait? Because only time will tell you if the event is random or part of an on-going pattern. If one person trips, then it doesn’t mean anything. Oh, it does to the person sure. But not in the larger picture.
But if 100 people trip. Well, then you need to do something about it.
This holds true for many decisions we make in life and business. Waiting is essential. And sometimes no decision is the best decision. And don’t read a message or a meaning into every random event in life.
We cannot control what we cannot control. But we can control our response. And staying calm and moving on is often all we can do. Especially when bad things happen.