The Hidden Trap Of ‘Status Quo Bias’ in Decision Making and The Leadership Lesson From ‘Moneyball’ Movie
In the Moneyball movie, Oakland Athletic’s General manager Billy Beane needs to assemble a competitive team for 2002 season with a measly budget of $38million whereas his competitive teams have got $120 million to spend on recruiting players. Another regretful news is that Oakland Athletics is losing three of his star players — Damon, Giambi and Isringhausen to rival teams.
Billy Beane meets his director Steve, informs him about the loss of star players and requests for some additional money.
Billy: “Steve, Well, you know we’re being gutted. We’re losing Giambi, Damon, Isringhausen. We’re in trouble”
Steve: “Billy, You’ll find new guys. You found Jason, you found Damon”.
Billy: “Steve, I can’t compete against $120 million with $38 million. I need a little more money”.
Steve: “Billy, We are not gonna compete with these teams that have big budgets. We’re gonna work within the constraints we have, and you’re gonna do the best job that you can recruit new players”.
Billy: “Steve, Why I’m here if it’s not to win a championship? This is why you hired me. My bar is to take this team to the championship”.
But Steve replies: “Billy, we’re a small-market team, and you’re a small-market GM. I’m asking you be okay not spending money that I don’t have and I’m asking you to take a deep breath, shake off the loss and figure out how to find replacements for the guys we lost, with the money that we do have”.
We could sense that the CEO Steve feels that by replacing those star players with the same skill sets would help him in maintaining the status quo and he appears comfortable in just participating in the competition than going for winning the championship.
Cut to the next scene …
Oakland Athletic’s Scouting room — Billy Beane and a team of selectors discuss the selection of players for the next season.
One of the former players, Grady, “Ok.Guys. We have got three big holes to fill….we will go around the room. I like the player Geronimo. How about him”
Billy interferes, points out that the selectors are not solving the right problem — The problem is not replacing the star players but to win the championship with less money and without star players. He provides them examples to think differently and asks them to find a new way to recruit players than the traditional method. He also offers them a solution of non-traditional Sabermetric approach to scout players, but the selection panel is dismissive and becomes hostile to Billy.
Grady: “Billy, Now, this is no time to push the panic button. Our scouts will find players, Player Development will develop them. We’ll teach them to play Oakland A baseball. With all due respect, we’ve been doing this a long time. Why don’t you just let us be responsible for replacing Giambi with whom we know that can play?”
Here, we could see how Steve & the scouting team prefer things to stay the same by sticking with a decision made previously, which is nothing but maintaining ‘Status Quo’.
Though Billy Beane wants to explore a different solution so that the team could go and win the championship, Steve and others are not inclined to take risks as Status Quo is comfortable, safer and no risks involved. Breaking from status quo means taking action, and if Steve & his selection team tries a new idea, takes action, they have to take responsibility, thus opening themselves to criticism and to regret if things did not work out as planned. It is natural for everyone to look for reasons to do nothing different.
Be it Billy, Steve, his scouting team, me or you — we use a lot of unconscious mental shortcuts(Heuristics) to help in making decisions. These shortcuts are called Cognitive Biases. These biases are hidden traps residing within us. ‘Status Quo’ bias is one of such cognitive biases — a strong tendency to revert to default position or the inertia to maintain the previous situation intact. We all keep falling into the status quo trap very often.
Let’s take a simple example — Mobile phone. Are you using the same default ringtone set by your phone manufacturer? How about the background image on your home screen?
You would be receiving so many subscribed messages that you would never open and read. All you have to do is just to send a blank mail with a subject “Unsubscribe” to opt out of those emails. Have you tried it?
HOW TO AVOID FALLING INTO ‘STATUS QUO’ TRAP?
01) Avoid Multiple Choices — Billy proposes Bill Jame’s Sabermetrics method of selecting the players, an unconventional approach in the history of Baseball sports. He might have considered multiple solutions in his mind, but he presented only one solution — Only one choice -Sabermetrics method. More the choices, more the pull towards maintaining the status quo, as the decision requires additional mental effort. Naturally, humans would try to avoid cognitive load and look for a shortcut. Multiple alternatives would encourage us to stick to the status quo. Avoid multiple solutions.
02) Remember Why? — Billy kept on reminding himself of his objectives — To win the championship. He kept on checking what kind of activities act as a barrier to his goals.
When Billy recruited unorthodox, unconventional players, he faced strong opposition from the Athletics team manager Art Howe(in-charge of team’s playing lineup), who is not convinced with the new idea. Billy wanted the new player Hatteberg to play at the first base position, but Art Howe refused and continued to play the only star player in the team, Pena at that position even after multiple requests.
Billy realised that as long as Pena remains in the team, Hatte won’t be provided with an opportunity to play at the base position. He saw this as a barrier to his goal and took a risk by trading Pena to another team and forced Howe to use Hatteberg at the first base position. The one way of overcoming our status quo biases is to remind ourselves the objectives, check whether each and every task act as barriers and take efforts to overcome them.
Note: The above content is part of the following book
Reference: The Hidden Traps in Decision Making — HBR article by John S. Hammond, Ralph L.Keeney, Howard Raiffa, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Influence by Robert B.Cialdini, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, Moneyball screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sarkin.