“Something has to be done”. “We have to be seen to be doing something”. These are basic human responses to crisis and fear: a deep seated desire to respond, react, control. It’s instinctive, and hard to ignore.

But it is almost always ill-advised.

I had this thought while watching a TV programme (Steven Spielberg’s Taken, if you must know) and one scene showed a young boy who refused to join in the exercise the teacher was taking the young people through. The teacher blew a whistle – to warn the students of a nuclear attack. The students all jumped under the desks. This was standard practice in US schools in the 1960s.

I remember doing exactly the same exercise in the 1980s in South Africa. We were told that the Russians might attack our schools with jets and missiles, and that the best way to protect ourselves was to dive underneath our desks. I am not sure any of us kids actually believed the story (why would the Communists target our school, after all?), but we had great fun when classes were disrupted by those bomb drills.

It was ridiculous of course. But it came straight out of government’s “we have to do something” playbook. That’s the same playbook that is in operation today with, for example, airport security. The stringent security measures imposed since 9/11 are easily bypassed by any frequent flier, and make very little logical sense to anyone. But we all dutifully take off our shoes and belts, carry only 100ml of liquids and submit ourselves to the authoritarian powers of the security personnel every time we fly. Why? Because “something had to be done”. We couldn’t just do nothing, could we?

It’s ridiculous.

And yet, that’s how many companies behave too. A few people spend too much time online, so Facebook is banned for everyone; one person abuses their expense account, so the whole system is shut down; one client complains, and the whole company’s focus shifts to respond; and so on. I am sure you have plenty of examples in your world of rules and regulations that are there simply because “we had to do something”. (I’d love to hear some of them, by the way).

This is the instinct that causes people to react so badly during online interactions. Without taking the time to try and understand what has been said and its intent, we take offence, feel indignation and respond aggressively. We’ve all done it. Something had to be done. But it would have been better if we hadn’t done it.

This is not a clever way to live your life or run your business. What do you think can be done to escape this mindset?

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