Posted at 1:09 PM on February 8, 2010
by Bob Collins
When Harvard considers the New Orleans Saints decision to start the second half with an onside kick, the American business community must take notice.
Andrew O'Connell, blogging on the Harvard Business Review Web site, considers the real-world business applications of Saints coach Sean Payton's thinking. He cites research showing "if a CEO simultaneously viewed the coming event as potentially both positive and negative -- and if those simultaneous convictions were intensely held -- the leader was more likely to take organizational action in response."
A top executive's ambivalence about an issue does not get in the way of reacting," Plambeck and Weber write in a recent issue of Organization Science, nor does it "paralyze organizational action responses." Instead, the leader's view of a situation as both good and bad creates what psychologists call "emotional arousal" and heightened alertness. That's partly because CEOs, like the rest of us, typically are quick to categorize developments as good or bad, black or white. When an issue shapes up as both positive and negative, there's a resulting "sense of unusualness" that stimulates "a more creative and deliberate" search for responses, Plambeck and Weber write.
Let's translate that into English. If a CEO is ambivalent to the point of not being sure what to do, there is a great chance of a creative (and risky) approach to the problem.
Of course, for the math and stat freaks, it's a little simpler to figure out as Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com did. It made statistical sense to try it, he writes.