Marketing and Beyond: The Evils of Inertia vs. a Bias to Act

Inertia is a terrible thing. In marketing and beyond, inertia breeds complacency. It defeats initiative. And often leaves us stuck in life and work situations that very much prevent progress.

“The chill of inertia, the failure to make an ongoing effort to progress, is the greatest barrier to success and happiness in life.” Yogananda

Inertia is a terrible thing.

In marketing and beyond, inertia breeds complacency. It defeats initiative. And often leaves us stuck in life and work situations that very much prevent progress.

In our free democracy, where we have full opportunity to act with will as citizens, as voters, as employees (and employers), as consumers, as individuals too often we find ourselves victims of inertia; often ,in the form of our own indifference, or bias to do nothing.

This summer I’ve seen three instances of inertia local, national and global, each with their own potential for terrible outcomes. All are preventable.

Inertia Hurts My Savings

For three of the past four years, my cooperative has sought to introduce a transfer fee where the seller of an apartment pays a fee to the cooperative as a sort of “kiss” goodbye. The funds generated from the sale are dedicated to a reserve where such proceeds can finance many predictable capital projects over time. Building such a reserve lessens the need for high maintenance increases and/or a series of one-off assessments to fund necessary capital projects. In a buoyant New York real estate market, the fee often can be recouped in the sale price. Having such a reserve in good standing also keeps our building attractive to buyers. These are all wonderful benefits of having a transfer fee in place and why it’s part of a fee structure in many New York co-ops.

Yet getting the necessary two-thirds of our shareholders to pass such a common-sense measure had been trying. Despite pleas and prods from the board, we could never muster enough votes at our annual meeting. It wasn’t that shareholders en masse opposed the proposal a far majority of those who voted did favor it it’s just that we couldn’t get enough favorable ballots to meet the mandatory two-thirds threshold of our governing rules. So this year, we took a “vote over time” approach, where we used the summer months to garner the two-thirds majority. It took one tremendous effort interacting as we could with each shareholder by phone, email and visits and we achieved our goal.

Still, nearly a third of shareholders did nothing, said nothing, and paid no attention … inertia. Even when confronted with a worse outcome, they failed to take notice and act. Thankfully, in this situation, enough neighbors picked up the slack. A potential financial emergency has been averted.

Inertia Hurts Democracy

It’s the day after Labor Day and now we start our march to vital mid-term elections. Left or right or in the middle, the decisions of our elected officials matter during the next two (Representatives), four (Governors) and six (Senators) years. Guess which age cohort of voter could hardly be bothered?

A new survey from NBC/GenForward reveals insights on inertia and ambivalence on a growing and key voter bloc Millennials and there’s a potential high price to pay through inertia.

Yes, that’s 43 percent who are uncertain or will probably not or definitely not vote. I understand why many younger individuals may have less faith in our political institutions than prior generations, but we get exactly what we deserve when we don’t show up to vote. Staying home cedes control to someone else. Is this purposefully not voting to stoke some imagined revolution or is this ambivalence? The effect, in any measure, is inertia and the status quo is hard to change when we keep sending the same people back to high office. Voting is the means to change, if you show up to vote.

We healthfully debate guns, police brutality, immigration, healthcare access and affordability, gender equality, climate change, conflicts of interest and Russian meddling. This voter bloc diverse as it is is the very generation who is empowered to make a difference! Folks, we just need to vote for the change and culture we believe in! There’s a lot more behind these survey results, I fear, that I have room to expand upon in this blog. Suffice it to say inertia, again, hurts all our interests.

Inertia Hurts Advertising

And now to a marketing issue wholly predictable and preventable. Europe has instituted a data freeze called the General Data Protection Regulation. I doubt it’s helpful to the average European and I know it is harmful to American interests. It actually institutes inertia as public policy.

Whole categories of beneficial information use in marketing the use of web-viewing and app-usage data for more relevant messaging, for example have been prohibited subject to opt-in permissions. Let’s revisit my co-op example: how many people opt-in to “anything” when it’s wholly desirable and beneficial for them to do so? Very few. Add a little doubt and fear political scandal, hypothetical evils not based in reality and the opt-ins are even harder to come by.

With a stroke of well-intended but ill-informed law, European Parliament slammed publishers, advertisers and consumers alike all in the name of privacy and they are proud of this accomplishment! Time will tell the true toll. But already, Europeans have less information, less choice, less competition, less revenue and more generic advertising all in the name of chasing ad tech profits as a privacy surrogate. These negative effects may not be immediately apparent to the consumer how do you count a beneficial offer not received? The familiar retort behind this law is “privacy is a fundamental human right.” Well, we can see how well that’s going again, all very predictable and preventable.

Let me be clear: I believe in privacy rights, too most certainly. [Disclosure, I work with a digital advertising privacy program for U.S. consumers, the YourAdChoices program.] But let’s make sure that mere annoyances a pop-up ad, for example don’t get conflated with government surveillance of citizens, or personal information misuse by the private sector where consumer harm is likely where privacy concerns as a society are truly legitimate. There are annoyances, which can be managed by ethics and best practices, and there are scenarios where privacy indeed is at risk. One needs to grade privacy protections accordingly. I’ve long argued U.S.’s current and extensive privacy regimen a thoughtful sectoral approach dutifully enforced, complemented by ethics, self-regulation and business contracts is far superior to Europe’s one-size-fits-all prescriptive approach. In short, Europe has mandated that inertia freeze (or even undo) responsible data use. Thus, in this zeal for consent, the tremendous flow of benefits accrued through responsible data deployment largely ceases.

In short, I’m hopeful, stateside, that we shun this European import. Transparency, choice, security and sensitive data we have effective, existing means in the United States to deliver toward these laudable aims. We have other ways to assert such privacy protections, yet we still allow beneficial information flows and innovation to continue.

So, will this be a summer and fall where we let inertia win? Or will we have a bias to act, to keep all-too-predictable sorry outcomes from happening?