“The Ostrich Theory”


Today’s Topic: The Ostrich Theory

Over nearly 30 years in various leadership roles in several different fields of work, I have borrowed, modified and personalized a wide range of management theories. Most of these theories have proven to be as timeless and simple as they have been consistently relevant and profound. Many of the concepts I have learned have deeply permeated the personal side of my life as much as the professional one. In the past, I’ve written about a few of these theories, and I will continue to do so in the future because these theories continually act as directional beacons for many of the journeys I encounter in life.

Today, I forced myself to begin the process of dealing with an impending reality; one I’ve been hiding from as the clock continues to tick: that my twins will be off and away to college in about a year and half. There’s so many good facets to that particular phase of life, but there are also accompanying harsh realities for a dad that has relied heavily on the closeness I have with my kids; their needs have been at the center of my everyday; and each day, their presence has been my emotional and spiritual nutrition. This stage of life will necessitate a serious amount of contemplation on my part if I ever hope to reconcile the weightiness of seeing them go. As I drove back for the several hours distance between a potential school and our home yesterday, my daughter napped, and I started to shake myself out of a state of perpetual self-denial so that I could begin to consciously walk down a path towards reconciliation and harmonization; and the “Ostrich Theory” came to mind.

From my many years in finance, I came to learn a bit about Behavioral Finance – which involves the study of social and emotional influences that affect the decisions people make regarding their financial matters. In this field, there is a term called the “ostrich effect.” In basic terms, the “ostrich effect” is the avoidance of apparently risky financial situations by pretending they do not exist. My own long ago learned “Ostrich Theory” was formed around the thought that most of the time, you can’t ignore a problem hoping it will somehow solve itself or magically disappear; you need to address issues before they become unmanageable and detrimental to your business – or for that matter, to your health, your relationships, your home, etc. We’ve all heard someone say, “Don’t be an ostrich and hide your head in the sand.” Right?

Just in case you didn’t know, that’s a common misconception about ostriches – they don’t actually hide their heads in the sand at all. When fear hits them, ostriches run – and they run very fast – up to 40 miles per hour. If danger is very close, they fight back with incredibly strong legs. Sometimes, yes, they curl up in a ball to blend in with the landscape in the hopes of confusing their pursuers, but they definitely don’t hide their heads in the sand. Either way, the metaphor has become easily recognizable for its underlying truth: avoiding problems in the hopes that they will just glide past us is a losing tactic; we can’t avoid problems by sticking our heads in the sand in the hopes that we can escape unseen and unscathed.

Even the most wonderful of lives will bring all types of difficulties to bear; some issues are monumental and very real, some are small and internally propagated; some are emotional, some psychological, and still others are physical. Sometimes facing our troubles is easier than at other times, but either way, we have to pull our heads out of the sand and do exactly that if we want to live to experience all of life.

With that in mind, here are a few movie quotes that come to mind.

“Never underestimate the power of denial.” –Mena Suvari in American Beauty

“Trouble is like a cancer, you got to get it early. You don’t get it early, it gets too big, then it kills you. You got to cut it out. Capice?” –Chazz Palminterri in A Bronx Tale

“Confront the beast that haunts you. Only then will you find peace.” –Ian McShane in Hercules

“I do not fear what comes next.” –Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger