Human behaviours have layers. The four layers of behaviours are

  • Instinct
  • Habit
  • Belief
  • Reason

This was stated by Thorstein Veblen1. I think this is one of the best ways to evaluate the motivation behind our decisions and actions both in personal and professional life. At the end of the day take time to go through all your actions and decisions and see which layer each action and decision belongs to.

Now let us take the same layers of behaviours and apply them to companies. Companies are made up of human beings too. In a startup most of the decisions are taken based on intuitions. I have seen most of the projects by startups are estimated using guesstimation. People’s intuition is the governing force upon which companies operate. May be it is not the intuition of the guy who is doing the actual work but the intuition of the guy above him who asked him to do things and make decisions in a particular way.

Once the startup gains sufficient experience they get into their own way of doing things without inventing new ways of doing things i.e they form habits. All the decisions and actions are governed mostly by their habits. The individual get into a state of inertia and think that they are changing things in action by just changing their thinking, but it is not correct.Here I would like to quote “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of acting, we act ourselves into a new way of thinking2. It is good to change habits to be more productive but for safety and predictability reasons companies and individuals don’t change their habits.

Once the companies build a sufficient level of capability and maturity their belief levels will be very high. Their actions and decisions are governed more by belief than by habits. Since they believe in themselves either as individuals or collectively as team they will try out new things and solve problems, break old habits and be open to change.

The final stage in which we strive to do things by reason is when a company really grows in a sustainable mode. Operating out of reason make us relentlessly realistic and makes us focus on issues at hand rather than dreaming about distant future. Everyday’s work by everyone adds immense values to the company both as tangibles and intangibles.

One of the short cuts to traverse these layers of behaviours quickly to reach the reason level is continuous learning. Continuous learning keeps our mind open, think effectively and take clear decisions. Don’t have the expert mentality that Harry S. Truman once said “An expert is someone who doesn’t want to learn anything new, because then he would not be an expert”.3

As human beings we cannot operate at the level of reason most of times. It is better to improve our actions through each level of behaviours. This helps us to have a better life. If we operate at a reason level we can handle people’s emotions very well which will help us to have good relationship with others.

What can businesses do? Businesses should provide an environment where people can operate at the reason level. To do this companies need to provide transparency in data (at least individual’s performance data), objective (not subjective) appraisal of individuals and processes and a platform for continuous learning.

Credits and References

1 – Economics The Users’s Guide – by Ha-Joon Chang

2 – Execution The discipline of getting things done – by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan

3 – Economics The Users’s Guide – by Ha-Joon Chang