Entrepreneurs, as a rule, are a fairly action oriented and risk tolerant lot. But even the boldest sometimes agonize about whether to finally quit that job, launch a new venture, or take their company (or their lives) in a different direction.
Science can't answer these sorts of complex and personal questions, of course, but a fascinating new study from University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) suggests that you should probably worry less and act more.
Change will make you happier than the status quo.
For the innovative study, Levitt set up a website that invited visitors who were facing weighty life decisions and deadlocked on what to do to have the site make the choice for them with a virtual coin toss. Heads you change your life, tails you keep things the same. Participants could get advice on everything from whether to have a child or start a business to whether to get a tattoo or go on a diet. Some 20,000 people took Levitt up on his offer.
It's a somewhat kooky premise for research published in a peer-reviewed journal, but the results indicate something profound about human nature: We're really biased toward the status quo, and we'd be happier if we shook up our lives more.
Checking in with participants after two and six months, Levitt found that those who had made big changes in their lives because of the random coin toss (or even just because they decided it was the right thing to do) were markedly happier than those who had soldiered on in their previous course. (Subjects who were deciding between trivial alternatives -- whether to grow a beard, say -- were equally happy.)
"I believe that people are too cautious when it comes to making a change," Levitt says.
That doesn't mean you should dump your adored life partner or throw your life savings into an ill-thought-out investment, of course. But it does suggest we'd all end up happier if we dared to change things up more often.
And Levitt's study isn't the only one suggesting people are generally too conservative about change. Another out of the Kellogg School found that, over the long-term, we are much more likely to regret things we haven't done rather than things we tried and failed at. Other research shows people are more likely to regret doing what they feel they "should" do rather than chasing their own crazy dreams.
All of which paints a clear but dreary picture of our natural inclinations: On average, it seems we humans are likely to stick things out too long, ignoring our nagging dreams and restless instincts in favor of inertia and other people's expectations.
The bottom-line advice
And that, Levitt feels, suggests some very simple advice we should all take to heart from his study: "A good rule of thumb in decision making is, whenever you cannot decide what you should do, choose the action that represents a change, rather than continuing the status quo."
So go ahead and take the plunge, entrepreneur. I can't guarantee things will go according to plan, but I can point you to a pile of research that says you'll regret not taking your shot far more.