The Consequences of Inaction

October 20, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking at #FailFest as part of Baltimore Innovation Week. Occasionally, when I give a talk, I will write a summary here on my blog as a point of reference. Given the response to my topic, I chose to elaborate on what I discussed in my FailFest talk which was titled “The Consequences of Inaction.”

First off, FailFest is an event where folks come to speak about failure and their experiences with failure. Athough I have spoken at FailFest in the past, this time I decided to start my talk off with my definition / understanding of what failure actually is.

Defining Failure:

The definition of failure to me is not necessarily defined as singular event. Rather failure is an experience that takes place when something happens that is not in line with the originally intended outcome. Think about it, sure there can be specific events that depict a failure, but more often than not any form of failure can be stated as an experience that takes place that is not in line with the originally intended outcome.

A simple example as it relates to software development is as follows: Your company has a plan to develop the next version of your tech platform and launch it at the end of Q1 2014. Unfortunately, you find yourself almost a year and a half later in 2015 just now starting to put clients on your rebuilt platform. A delay that is still not up to speed with where you want it. This is not necessarily a failure defined as an event, but rather an experience, and one with consequences.

Over the years, one action that I have found to be a mindtrap for failure is a flawed belief in the truth, or being disconnected from reality. Simply said, the experience of failure has origins in the belief system that things “will work out”, when they clearly are not working out and have repeated themselves over and over again.

Or said another way, is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results. If the results are bad, this is not good. Believing things will work out when all of the signs in front of you say they are not is delusional. You are disconnected with your intuition and the reality of the situation. You may want to believe something to be true, but history has already shown that what you believe is simply not the case.

I wanted to take the opportunity to expand failure into two categories. Failing professionally and failing personally. To me, both experiences of failure have unique sets of circumstances.

Failing Professionally:

We have all heard the term “paralysis by analysis.” In the business world, this experience often comes with great consequences when one can’t break out of their “paralysis.”

Professionally speaking, there always seems to be reasons why something may continue in a downward cycle. Often due to a lack of complete information regarding a circumstance, one may think and say things like: “Lets give them one more week,” “Do you really think they are lying to us? “No, it will work out,” “Lets give them the benefit of the doubt” “Lets see what happens tomorrow,” “They said that they just need another week to finish.”

Yet, that week comes and goes, and yet another week comes and goes, and yet another….

A colleague of mine said something to me on this topic that hit home. Its simple, “For every week you wait it will cost you a month.” Or said another way, for every week that you wait to take action, it costs you a month to get to where you want to be. For every week you wait, a month. That puts things into perspective, and I can tell you that I have experienced this first hand when it comes to business and projects.

As simple as it may seem, in order to break this cycle you have to ACT, you have to BREAK the cycle; you have to RIP the band aid off the wound and TAKE ACTION. The only way to CHANGE the situation is to CREATE THE CHANGE that is required. Simple, yes, however sometimes, and often, it’s just not that easy to do.

I’ve seen it first-hand too many times in business. Whether you are a founder, a CEO, a manager, or a team member that has fallen into the rut of “hoping for the best” when things are clearly showing you they are not going well, its ok, it happens. Often though with many dynamics involved. Why do we do this? The question is valid for me as an entrepreneur. I am an eternal optimist. I paint a vision of progress, hope and genuinely believe things will work out (they always do in their own way), but occasionally I have allowed my eternal optimism to cloud my judgement and therefore my actions.

In business, this type of paralysis can come with big consequences. Depending on the exact situation there can be financial implications, missed deadlines and delays, the possibility of missed market opportunities, the loss of business / customers, etc. In the end, a lot of costly events can take place in business for NOT taking action in a timely manner. Don’t fall into this rut and always remember, for every week you wait will cost you a month to get there!

Failing Personally:

On the personal side, much of the same dynamics discussed above are involved, but in a different manner. The consequences of inaction are different on a personal level. Things can be much more subjective in these cases.

If you need to make a change in your life but over analyze it due to fear, the effects can be similar to that in business but in this case more often than not they are psychological.

As an example, maybe you want to eat healthier, or maybe you want to change the role or job you are in, or maybe you are depressed and need to make a change to turn your life around. Maybe you need to work a regular exercise and fitness routine into your life. Whatever the specific case may be, paralysis by analysis in this case leads to personal inaction. This inaction leads to excuses.

I’ve seen many friends and I have also experienced this in my own life. INACTION comes with consequences when you know that you need to do something in your life, when you know you need to make a change, and almost always when you IGNORE your INNER VOICE. When this happens, you are effectively IGNORING what’s best for you. Is that what you think you deserve? To hold yourself back?

Negative consequences come when you close yourself down to your own voice because you are always coming up with mindless distractions like; “What will people think?” “I will get on that tomorrow, what’s another day?” “I’m concerned I’m going to hurt someone’s feelings” “That’s a tough conversation to have so I’ll put it off,” etc..

There are numerous amounts of reasons why we can suggest to ourselves that now is not the right time to do something. Simply put: these are excuses and distractions that ultimately lead us to holding ourselves back from progressing forward in our path.

Personally, the consequences of such inaction could lead to things like missing new opportunities that may come if you make a change. You may magnetize new people and new situations if you make a specific change. You may feel or look the best you ever have in your life as a result of your actions. However, these positive effects may never occur because you find yourself in your complacency and won’t create the changes that are necessary for you to evolve.

Consequences can also manifest in other ways as well when it comes to our personal lives. Failure to act in certain situations can manifest health issues, depression, home / family issues, substance and alcohol abuse, and many other personal ways too many to list, but you get the gist. The rabbit hole goes deep when it comes to our own human experience.

Bringing it Home:

To summarize the above, whether it’s a professional or personal situation, there are always consequences when there is a lack of action regarding a scenario that is negative or one that needs to be changed for the better.

When things are not going the way you think they should, or not flowing the way they should be, its best to LOOK THINGS DIRECTLY IN THE EYE. Take a hold of the situation and TAKE ACTION. There is a thing we all have in us called our “inner voice” or “gut feel.” Inevitably, when we ignore our gut feeling things tend to not turn out well. I have tested this time and time and time again and it always rings true. We are much more intuitive than we can imagine.

This all seems very simple, but I see to many people resist the action around the change that is required in both business and personal scenarios to allow for resolution, progess and growth. The sooner you take action and create the change you want the happier you will be and the faster you will reach your goals.

And always remember, for every week you wait, it takes a month to get to where you want to be. On a final note, think about this: There is no time like the present, and there is no present like the time.


** Special thanks to Laura Black for some editing love.


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