Fallacies of planning

Dan Hotchkiss of the Alban Institute writes:

The classic way to demonstrate loss aversion is to ask two groups of people to choose between alternative plans for vaccinating people against a disease. Without vaccine, the disease will kill 600 people. One group has to choose between a vaccine that definitely will save 200 and another that has only a one-third chance of saving everyone. Most people, given this choice, choose the first vaccine.

The second group is asked to choose between a vaccine that will definitely let 400 people die, and another that has only a two-thirds chance of letting all 600 die. Given these options, most people choose the latter, even though the only difference is that this time the choice is expressed in terms of a loss (letting people die) instead of a gain (saving people). We are more willing to take risks in order to avoid losses than to achieve gains.

This helps explain why new ideas face such an uphill battle for acceptance in most congregations, while old ideas persist unquestioned. Remaining in a familiar building or continuing a cherished worship style does not feel risky even though there may be good reason to believe that doing so may limit our potential to attract new members. Moving to a new location or changing our worship style, by contrast, feels extremely risky because it involves the immediate loss of something we have now. In reality, the risk of clinging to the old may be much greater than the risk of trying something new.

Another related concept is the “sunk-cost fallacy” or “gambler’s mistake.” For a gambler, this is the idea that if you bet a lot of money on a hand, you’d better keep on betting to avoid losing the money you have put into the pot. For congregations, it may be a matter of sticking with a strategy (like browbeating people for their stinginess) long after it has repeatedly proved unsuccessful. In part, this is a simple matter of saving face: so long as you keep on trying, you can blame other people or circumstances for your failure. But as soon as you wise up and quit, you have to admit you’ve made a mistake.

Read it all.

Past Posts