Friday, August 22, 2014

Eliminating Ostrich Effect In CEOs

NPR reports on a new study that demonstrates the Ostrich effect in people. That's where the ostrich buries his head in the ground to avoid danger. The ostriches who do this and then don't die go on to have babies. And the gene for this behavior gets passed on. I don't know if ostriches really do that or not. Still, it's a staple of cartoon humor. Silly birds.

The results of the study indicate that people will pay money to avoid learning health news that might be negative. Specifically, subjects paid $10 to NOT have their blood tested for Herpes Simplex 2 (that's the worse one). Ever have a relative or friend who avoided going to the doctor even though there was clearly a problem? Ostrich effect. Silly birds.

That's a very interesting study. If you think about it, this makes sense:
  • Touching a hot stove hurts. So we avoid touching it by using an oven mitt or simply keeping hands away.
  • Bad news is painful. So potential of bad news makes us avoid information altogether.
This can be generalized to partially explain why many leaders throughout history (and today) have surrounded themselves with toadies. They don't want to hear the bad news so they gradually insulate their mind with the functional equivalent of oven mitts. 

Look at CEOs with cybersecurity. The CISO tends to always bring bad news so they just stop inviting him, or putting him under someone else who can oven mitt him off. Ostrich effect. Silly birds. Silly environmental threats.

Knowing that a CISO can change his content or delivery to reduce this effect. For instance putting today's report in context. "Yes we're not great, but we're doing much better." Or bringing good news along with any bad news, such as "We saved over $300K last year in employee downtime from reducing malware infections. Also we still had lots of malware infections." Or keep smiling throughout the conversation, maybe telling a joke or two to improve the mood. Every little helps. Or bring donuts. Executives love donuts don't they?

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