Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Are You a “Deer in Headlights?”

It is a physiological fact that if a deer is standing in the dark by the side of a road and a car’s headlights shine on it, the deer is blinded momentarily and they freeze.  The funny thing is, it happens not only to deer but to companies and to people.  Psychologists define the commonly used phrase ”deer in the headlights” as “a state of indecision caused by surprise, anxiety, fear, and confusion.”

Let’s consider companies.  The folks at RIM who produce the Blackberry certainly have been frozen in the headlights from early 2008 until quite recently.  They looked at the emergence of the iPhone in late 2007 as well as the Android phones in the same period and absolutely froze!  They have remained in that state as their stock went from $130 per share down to $9 range in 2013 (very recently they have decided to abandon the consumer market and focus only on corporate customers).

General Motors froze for even a longer period of time: from the early 1970’s until their bankruptcy recently.  The press regularly noted the $1,000+ added manufacturing cost per car that it was paying versus the Japanese entries, but GM did nothing.  The press also observed the many styling trends that were initiated by the foreign cars while GM produced mostly boredom from a design standpoint.

Considering individuals, Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), was clearly a “deer in the headlights” as the personal computer emerged, driving DEC to oblivion while Ken Olsen stood frozen on the sidelines, publically down-playing the potential of the PC.

Here are the key things we need to remember:

1.) It’s Human Nature – It obvious that humans, to varying degrees, are wired so that when they see something shocking it generates anxiety, surprise and confusion.  We need to recognize that and deal with it as quickly as possible; developing a plan for tackling the future.

2.) Efforts to Deal With Change Need to be Protected – While first stunned by a surprising move in the marketplace, many individuals will attempt to rationalize why the current business model is totally acceptable.  These people will attempt to shut down or minimize the need for any kind of change efforts.  Pride will have taken over.  You need to protect your change agents from these people.

3.) Real Innovators Don’t Act Like Deer – There are creative people out there that thrive on change and this type of employee needs to be treasured.  They are easy to spot because sometimes they are a nuisance.  Importantly, they need to be listened to carefully.

Just remember, when bad stuff happens, don’t freeze, attack!


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