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Inventor of FOMO is Warning Leaders About a New Threat

FOMO, or the "fear of missing out," has permeated most corners of our popular culture.

Inventor of FOMO is Warning Leaders About a New Threat

Posted Monday October 30th, 2017 by in Analysis + Strategy.

This article originally appeared in Peter Kozodoy's Inc. column.

FOMO, or the "fear of missing out," has permeated most corners of our popular culture. But rest assured -- FOMO wasn't invented by some Madison Avenue agency. In fact, quite the opposite; the term was created by a Harvard MBA named Patrick J. McGinnis, author of The 10% Entrepreneur.

However, while we have come to use it in our everyday vernacular ("dude, my dog has serious FOMO every time I leave him at home"), McGinnis actually developed FOMO for the context of business decision-making.

In that strategic context, he used FOMO to describe managers who execute on too many initiatives or follow too many potential paths, out of fear of missing some positive trend or opportunity.

In this scenario, the manager is guilty of overdoing it, and is most likely confusing both their business stakeholders and the market at large with their lack of a unified, strategic direction.

However, most people don't know that FOMO is just one half of the managerial equation. It has an even darker counterpart -- one that can cripple and then completely ruin companies if it's not managed well.

The second concept McGinnis developed is FOBO, or the "fear of a better option." In this scenario that we've seen all too often, managers don't act at all, choosing instead to sit back and wait for a better option to come along.

"FOBO is nothing new," McGinnis shared with me. "People have long agonized over major life choices, like getting married, taking a job, or buying a house, in hopes of finding a slightly better or radically better option."

How "fear of a better option" affects your office

The opposite of FOMO in which managers try to do everything, FOBO means that managers create as many options as possible, keep them open, and then decide which options work somewhere "at the time and place that is most favorable," however the person defines it.

FOBO has always been a problem; however, McGinnis pointed out that "today, when we have so many options, we don't just try to optimize who we marry, or where we work or live -- we try to optimize nearly every aspect of our lives and we spend inordinate time and energy in the process."

It's the ultimate analysis-paralysis that we see plaguing our business climate, and it helps explain why corporations are succumbing to the nimbler start-up culture that is defining business in the 21st century.

Furthermore, McGinnis shared what's most dangerous about FOBO is that, unlike FOMO, "FOBO impacts everyone around the afflicted," because its root is in selfish whims and the disrespect of the opinions around the decision-maker.

What's worse is that companies today are drowning in big data, making it even easier for FOBO-oriented leaders to keep running analyses in hopes of finding a better way forward.

How to avoid FOBO

So how do we as leaders avoid FOBO? McGinnis cautions that "We must accept that decisions come with downsides, trade-offs, and the risk of failure. Otherwise, we are too slow to react." With that acceptance in mind, we simply must move forward and make the best decision we can in the moment.

In a world where innovation is the currency of effective leadership, indecision can be fatal. Blockbuster, Borders, Blackberry, Yahoo and more failed to innovate, perhaps succumbing to FOMO, FOBO or both.

As Shakespeare warned us centuries ago, "Striving to better, oft we mar what's well." It's a brilliant lesson in modern leadership, too.


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