According to Sienna Brooks, a character in Dan Brown's blockbuster book and movie, Inferno: "Denial is a critical part of the human coping mechanism. Without it, we would all wake up terrified every morning about all the ways we could die. Instead, we block out our existential fears by focusing on stresses we can handle...."
So, if we hear horror stories about other firms hit by computer viruses or server crashes and failed backup systems, we are all too ready to switch to more immediate, familiar problems or tasks.
Our brains are very protective. They don't want us to be overwhelmed by thoughts of a computer incident bringing all work immediately to a halt. We don't want imagine uncertainties about what could be lost and how long it would take to recover. So we don't focus on them.
Though great at putting up the denial defense, our brains infrequently may consider these daunting threats. When we do think about preventing or preparing for computer problems, like other threats, we are susceptible to three errors, according to Wharton marketing professor Robert Meyer:
- We under-consider or under-appreciate future consequences;
- We are too quick to forget negative events in the past;
- If in doubt, we tend to follow the advice of people prone to the same errors.
The power of positive thinking, while usually very good to have, can stop us from taking proper precautions. Meyer observes:
An optimistic bias means that you recognize that there is some hazard out there and there is a really good chance that it can occur, but the tendency is to think that when it does occur, the real harm is going to be to somebody else; it’s not going to be to you.
We can counteract these self-defeating thought patterns. One approach is to enter a quarterly appointment in our calendars, highlighted as Important. At this appointment we follow a Risk Avoidance checklist with space for Action Items.
By making the Risk Avoidance process as routine as possible, we reduce the chances that we will revert to our natural response: inaction.