Avoid the caveman syndrome to win in ecommerce

Does caveman syndrome work in business?
If the cavemen hadn’t survived we wouldn’t be here today, so their risk taking strategy was clearly optimised for its time. It’s a great approach to a life if danger lurks at every turn and gut instinct and rapid decision making is needed. The problem is that many of us are still programmed this way.

Years ago I read in Harvard Business Review about the risk taking profile of entrepreneurs. They were, as a group, very open to taking risks. But the interesting fact was that they were also incredibly careful at assessing the actual level of risk that they were taking. Many people might see them as the modern embodiment of the caveman, but the successful entrepreneur thinks very differently. For them, danger takes time to develop, and risks can be carefully assessed and weighed before action.

When managing a business today, there are very few decisions where a short delay precipitates a life versus death business survival gamble. There is nearly always time to consider all of the facts available, and often to gather further information. Quick decisions based purely on instinct are not appropriate. In fact I would go further. If you make decisions on instinct when your competitors make them based on fact, they will make better the decisions. Cavemen needed instinct to survive, but now this can get in the way.

Even good instinct isn’t infallible
Of course, none of this is to suggest that instinct can’t help us to make good decisions. Steve Irwin, the Australian naturalist and TV star (“The crocodile hunter”) made thousands of instinctive decisions in his dealings with dangerous wildlife, and all of them worked until the last one. Unfortunately, when his instinct let him down, it cost him his life.

Sometimes facts are incomplete and this is where experience and instinct does come in. It’s just that we should never substitute our informed guesses for decisions that could be based on facts.

Computers have changed the game
The arrival of computers has meant that in many areas of business, facts can replace human intuition. Instead of having a gut feel for the patterns of seasonal sales, I can look at real figures plotted on a graph. Instead of guessing at where my web traffic comes from, I can know. Instead of thinking that pay-per-click is a waste of money / the best thing since sliced bread, I can be looking at the precise percentage of my sales that is consumed by the medium.

More than anywhere else, ecommerce businesses can be driven by data. Looking at numbers and statistics is the route to the greatest ecommerce success. So my advice is, if you are not good with numbers then find someone to help who is. It is in this direction that success lies, and ignoring it will lead to the unpleasant experience of being vanquished by those that have mastered the art.


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Chris Barling

Chris Barling co-founded ecommerce software supplier, SellerDeck (formerly Actinic Software) in 1996. He has over 30 years’ experience at the corporate end of the IT industry. He is a prolific writer for a large range of small business media and has also published three books on ecommerce.
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Chris Barling co-founded ecommerce software supplier, SellerDeck (formerly Actinic Software) in 1996. He has over 30 years’ experience at the corporate end of the IT industry. He is a prolific writer for a large range of small business media and has also published three books on ecommerce.