People become tense at the “prospect” of losing something that they already have, even if they end up getting something more valuable instead. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman identified this as the “prospect theory.” If people have personally invested time and effort into that something, the condition grows even worse. People don’t want their work replaced, even if it is the absolute right thing to do and they benefit from it.
The prospect effect is very real and can lead to great inefficiency with teams and organizations. Have you ever heard, “but we’ve always done it that way?” Teams and organizations will not thrive without subtracting and regeneration of efforts that no longer produce the desired effect, even when emotions are involved. As a leadership lesson for practicing subtraction, Robert Sutton offers that “if you aren’t upsetting people, you aren’t pushing hard enough.”
We all have positive emotional reactions to the familiar and negative reactions to the unfamiliar. So the inclination as a leader is to hold to the status quo and avoid negative emotions, even at the expense of poor results or the eventual demise of the group. To lead is to do (yes, sometimes subtract) what matters most for the team and for the organization.