As mega-successful entrepreneur Elon Musk says, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

It's hard to get yourself both motivated and comfortable enough to take risks, let alone creating an environment where your employees can do it.

But a new research study brings to light an effective but pretty counterintuitive way to get people to take risks: ostracize them.

Wait, wait--put away the pitchforks.

Yes, we know that exclusion and ostracizing is mean, and it can result in some pretty bad things. Ignoring people, especially during their formative years, can contribute to their feelings of depression, dishonest behavior, and more. I think we can all agree that purposely excluding, ignoring, or shunning another person is a pretty crappy thing to do.

And yet these Ohio State University researchers found that people who are ostracized also make riskier decisions.

Now, it's important to note that not all risk is good. Taking high levels of risk can actually be perceived as a negative behavioral trait. Consider the gambler who risks the house, or the driver who speeds, ignores traffic signals and take risks with a several thousands of pounds of metal they're driving around in.

Not so good.

But in business and especially in the fast-paced world of startups, having the stomach for risk isn't just a good thing--it's required.

I'm not suggesting you start going out of your way to make your employees and coworkers feel like garbage. You definitely should not make one of your employees sit alone at lunch, or have the entire group turn your backs on one employee every time he talks. That would be awful and... well, bizarre.

As the researchers pointed out, "Ostracized participants also reported feeling burdensome," and "Feeling ostracized and burdensome and making risky decisions can be detrimental."

We don't want to make people feel awful. So how can we turn this interesting insight into a positive?

Interestingly, the study found that being ostracized only aspects one of the two elements of decision-making. See, there are actually two factors when we make decisions: our unconscious and deliberative processes. They're pretty self-explanatory. Unconscious processes are the things we don't even realize we're considering that influence our decisions--our biases, preconceptions, etc.

What is affected by exclusion and being ostracized is our deliberate decision-making process.

Now, despite a bunch of media several years ago claiming that unconscious decision-making helps us make better choices, researchers from the University of New South Wales found in 2008 that conscious decision-making is the best way to go. Examining a problem from various angles, thinking through potential solutions and their repercussions, and making a rational decision based on this deliberative process helps us make the best choices.

Now, this new study suggests that our tolerance for risk while making those deliberate choices can be influenced by others ignoring or excluding us.

Maybe the answer, then, is to encourage your team to do a bit of friendly ostracizing, or even of excluding themselves. Teamwork is great, but there's nothing wrong with solitude, either.

This research suggests that it might actually do your close-knit team some good to disengage once in a while--to impose periods of isolation on themselves. Is it possible to reap the risk-tolerance benefits of isolation without making yourself or your team suffer the negative impacts, too?

Only time will tell, but for now, this study certainly suggests that it's worth a shot! Maybe a bit of isolation is just what the doctor ordered to help your co-workers work up the nerve to get on board with your crazy idea.

Published on: Oct 17, 2016
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