Does Your Company Suffer from the Fear of Finding Out (FOFO)?
This cultural and psychological barrier could be stopping your company from uncovering the hidden challenges that could derail you on your track to success
What is FOFO, the Fear of Finding Out?
We’ve all seen the meme of the ostrich with its head in the sand. And I’m sure you can recall someone in your life who behaves this way, not opening that piece of mail or asking the questions they know may bring unfavorable information, shielding themselves to temporarily preserve their ‘comfortable status quo’ or carefully crafted worldview.
While there is speculation over who coined the term “ostrich effect” first – either behavioural economist George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University or Israeli economists Dan Galai and Orly Sade (in a 2006 paper about investor behavior) – both used the phenomenon to describe the peculiar human behavior seen with investors and how they chose to stick their heads in the sand during lousy markets, ignoring information presented to them, or interpreting that information in a way that ignores potentially troubling implications.
And now cue today’s “Ostrich Effect”; “FOFO”, prevalent in so many organizations we see. Simply put, it’s the “Fear of Finding Out”, or the selective avoidance of negative information.
Could this cultural and psychological barrier be stopping your company from uncovering the hidden challenges that could derail your track to success?
Strong managers are listeners. Giving your team avenues to share problems and ideas can translate into change that matters
What is FOFO?
They say “out of sight, out of mind” but is that really true?
Similar to the Ostrich Effect, FOFO is the fear of finding out, or simply, the fear of knowing the truth. It is often used in the finance industry to describe customers afraid of opening their accounts due to the fear of poor financial health. According to a recent Barclays Bank study, 37% of Millennials had FOFO about their finances and did not like to check their bank accounts.” (R3 Consulting, Overcoming FOFO)
FOFO is also used in the medical field for those afraid to seek medical treatment and finding out they have a condition. Apparently, ‘Fear of Finding Out’ in the health industry makes up a 33% of conscious reasons why people don’t visit the doctor.
The research around FOFO from the medical industry shows that the ‘Fear of Finding Out’ mostly affects those who have an unhealthy lifestyle, and those who struggle to cope with the knowledge of a life-threatening illness. It can also impact those who do not want to be “pressured’ into making lifestyle changes.”
Fear is the foundation on which ‘Fear of Finding Out’ is built upon, and research shoes there are 3 main pillars:
- Fear of the initiating action – 45% of women and 37% of men found the difficulty making an appointment a key barrier
- Fear of the investigative process – 33% of adults who admitted that they had avoided a doctor visit that they deemed necessary citing ‘discomfort with a body examination’ as the primary reason
- Fear of outcomes and implications – one of the most widely endorsed barriers to consultation in regards to cancer was found to be the ‘worry about what the doctor might find’, which was true for 34% of men and 40% of women. Furthermore, between 12% and 55% of people who undergo testing for HIV fail to return to learn whether they are infected
Whatever the origins of FOFO, we at Swae have observed this phenomenon to be deeply prevalent in decision-makers, and the parallels in our findings hold true across all industries and organization types. What we have found is an apprehension – or sometimes even inability – to hear the truth about the problems that persist in their organization and the associated negative impacts they might have on their company’s organizational health and performance, in order to avoid conflicts or disrupt their status quo.
Everybody knows they exist, they are known but not discussable
We, at Swae, know organizations thrive and work better when leaders actively acknowledge potentially unpleasant information rather than run from it. We’ve partnered with numerous organizations to correct the detrimental outcomes that have come from simple “pure avoidance.”
To avoid potential disaster and confront FOFO, it is important to first understand where FOFO originates from, and why it’s allowed to persist. It is then possible to open up to the solutions to combat FOFO directly at a systems level in your workforce.
Why do leaders allow FOFO to persist inside organizations?
According to Michael Beer – Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School and author of “Fit to Compete: Why Honest Conversations About Your Company’s Capabilities are the Key to a Winning Strategy” – there are six reasons why leaders allow FOFO to persist inside organizations.
These ‘“silent killers”, as he calls them include:
- Unclear strategy, values, and conflicting priorities.
- An ineffective senior team.
- Leadership behavior – top-down or laissez-faire (hands off).
- Poor coordination across businesses, functions, or geographic regions.
- Inadequate leadership/management skills and development in the organization.
- Low capacity for honest, collective, and public conversations about external and internal reality.
Number 6, the low capacity for honest, collective, and public conversations about external and internal realities is closely related to how good a company is at making change happen (and stick).
If problems aren’t recognized and realities aren’t faced, then a company doesn’t have a sturdy foundation, and without a sturdy foundation how can you build a solid structure?
It’s not about whether you believe in collective intelligence or not. It’s about if you can afford not to listen to the early warning signs and delay action. Swae helps you avoid expensive mistakes and issues
From our experience at Swae, number 6 is the most important and telling factor because it closely correlates to, and in some cases has a causal relationship with, how good and fast a company is at making meaningful and structural change happen (and making change stick) to improve their situation.
We’ve spent the past 3 years deploying our idea management and decision-making platform into various organizations, cultures, and environments, working with leaders across the Globe. Through this, we’ve observed that FOFO is allowed to persist inside organizations because:
- Leaders don’t want hear the truth because they don’t want to take responsibility over solving it;
- Leaders already know the truth and can’t do anything about it (lack of scope or authority); or;
- Leaders afraid of the negative consequences and potential backlash to them from raising the truth or suggesting solutions to known problems
Furthermore, our research with these leaders and decision-makers have clearly shown that organizations that are more risk-averse, who operate under rigid and multi-tiered hierarchies are the most likely to suffer from FOFO at all layers of decision-making, particularly amongst upper and senior leadership. The characteristics and red-flags that come up time and time again include:
- Disregard for employee voice and/or feedback
- Tolerance towards a persisting unhealthy culture
- Resistance towards changing of structure or approach in the face of existential threats (new technologies, trends, cultural expectations, etc.)
What is the cost and risk of allowing problems and FOFO to linger?
Unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss.
FOFO can silently destroy a company before it even knows what’s happening. Leaders typically look at the health of the company when it comes to numbers like revenue and profit, but there are many other factors that fly under the radar. This can include measures like operational or infrastructure issues, the decline in the health of a company’s culture, marketing/sales issues that hinder growth, and more.
FOFO and The Ostrich effect can be a serious drawback to tackling costly problems in organizations. Because it’s so overwhelming to contemplate the severity and complexity and interrelationships of the issues, it’s often easier for decision-makers to just ignore them or reject their importance or downplay information that contradicts their more positive narrative.
Unaddressed FOFO is dangerous, as problems left to linger means organizations are actively eroding their foundation
How can you eliminate FOFO?
Now here’s an important question for you…
If you’ve read the above and still feel comfortable selectively avoiding hard realities and prefer not to embrace the ignorance is bliss mentality, then the next section is not for you.
But, if you want to confront the realities head on, then read on:
At the root of FOFO is the fear of having uncomfortable discussions and possibly constructive but tense disagreements about the realities that confront the organization. FOFO is about confronting the elephants in the room, and in some cases, shining a light on the real truth often to those with authority who may not want to hear it. The fears of doing this are real – the act of speaking up may have ripple effects and consequences on your standing, autonomy, and access to resources.
But, not speaking up usually means that you are prolonging the inevitable. More often than not, silence means that you’re risking your own future, your company’s future, and the future of colleagues you now call friends within your organization as a whole.
To tackle FOFO head on, you must value the potential positive outcomes and solutions that you might reveal more than the discomfort of the process of revealing the challenges. The positive consequences and results must outweigh both the discomfort of raising the issue and the pain of carrying around unresolved truths for a never ending period of time. That’s a heavy burden to carry.
In a world of empty promises, manipulation, and deception, a true leader cares for the well-being of others; she shoes commitment to advancing the best interests of those around her…Ultimately, it’s this kind of love that defines the best CEOs on the planet.”
Founder of Leadership from the Core
How Swae can help?
The potentially devastating consequences of FOFO can be neutralized when leaders learn how to face the truth, even when it hurts.
Swae was designed to help leaders and employees create a “speak up” culture for everyone’s benefit, without making significant structural changes to how they manage the organization.
By implementing a technology platform like Swae, this enables an organization to source insights and ideas from more people more often, leaders can easily tap into the hidden problems that people are facing and open the funnel to discover winning and decision-ready solutions for solving issues — from the bottom-up.
Simply put, when more voices are heard, leaders see and know more, and they become empowered with new insights consistently. It’s becoming quite widely accepted that our best ideas and solutions can come from an organization’s people (regardless of hierarchy), the same few people don’t need to decide the fate of many.
If you feel your company suffers from FOFO, start by implementing any of these solutions above and you can start to correct your course. A path that’s unique for your people and for the purpose of your company.
If you want to overcome your FOFO, Swae is a turnkey solution that can give your employees a safe and streamlined way to express their feelings, raise problems and give you their best ideas.
We’d love to hear from you!
As we continue to dig deeper and deeper into this subject matter, we find FOFO is something that resonates with so many of our clients, colleagues and friends. If you find the above all too familiar, we would love to chat and learn more about your specific experience and would love 10 minutes of your time to chat.
More to explore...
United Nations gathers actionable solutions for the world’s largest threats using Swae-powered global digital consultation
This world-changing digital consultation gathered 523 proposals from over 1,750 thought-leaders from more than 140 countries, and the best solutions were presented to the UN General Assembly. Background In April 2021, we announced (see more here) a strategic...
Swae wins 1st place in the 2021 ExO 2021 Transformation Awards in the “New Company” Category
Swae CEO Speaker for the Persia Educational Foundation’s Webinar Iran 2.0: Exploring AI, Policy and Democracy
Iran 2.0: Exploring AI, Policy and Democracy Panelists: Ali Ansari, Afshin Molavi & Soushiant Zanganehpour When: Wednesday, 18 August, 17:00 - 18:00PM BST (London, UK) Where: Online Webinar hereBringing together the worlds of historical insight into Iran and its...