FOLB - Fear of Looking Bad

Improvement Insights Blog

FOLB – Fear of Looking Bad

Humans, by nature, have a fear of looking bad (FOLB). And we have a fear of looking stupid (FOLS). These are slowing COVID-19 response and quality improvement. Here’s why:

Hi, I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma Demystified” and QI Macros [software].

“You’ve all probably all heard some of these acronyms that are running around like FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. Well, I wanted to introduce you to a couple more that I’d like you to consider. FOLB: Fear Of Looking Bad.

“Now when I’ve gone out to work with companies in consulting roles, some of these managers think, “I’m supposed to be in charge of fixing everything. What does this whippersnapper know about my business?” and blah blah blah… And then they’re afraid to give me data, right?

“So they have a Fear Of Looking Bad, like somehow they should have been able to figure this out on their own, but they don’t have the tools or the process technology or the insights that that a process doctor might have, right? So they have a Fear Of Looking Bad, and even with the COVID crisis you’re seeing that China had a fear of looking bad so they hesitated. All of the countries in the world had a fear of looking bad. For the politicians, it’s all about optics: “How’s that look,” and “How am I going to look,” and especially with the presidential election, “How’s it going to look for the presidential election” (or any of these elections). It’s optics, and so we have a Fear Of Looking Bad which causes people to hesitate.

“What I think they’re overlooking is the Fear Of Looking Stupid: FOLS (or “fools”). That’s a short acronym – FOLS: Fear Of Looking Stupid. I think everybody’s going to say, “Well, gee, we should have gotten on this faster,” and blah blah blah blah… No, human nature is not that way. I’ve also seen this in Six Sigma: people are afraid of using a chart for fear somebody will call them out on it. No, they don’t want to look stupid because they picked a [wrong] chart. Guess what? You have to try a tool to learn how to use it. When you’re a kid you might try and hammer a screw into a wall with a hammer; doesn’t work very good, right? Or you might need a screwdriver but it might need to be a Phillips head or it may need to be a flathead and that might work, but if those get stripped, guess what? You might have to get out a pair of pliers and use it to unscrew the things to take it out so you can put in a better screw.

“We have to start to try and use all of our tools. Stop being afraid, stop having a Fear Of Looking Stupid. I consider any time that I do something and somebody calls me on it I say, “Oh, I learned something that I didn’t know. It’s a learning event.” It’s not a, ‘Hey I’m stupid’ event, all right?

“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Get over this whole thing about Fear Of Looking Bad. Almost everybody is going to be doing that. All the data you see is manipulated so that somebody will not look bad, so but it’s systemically distorted, so you can use it for improvement. I’m not afraid. There’s no perfect data. Get the hell over it. It’s just not possible, right? And get over this Fear Of Looking Stupid. Start using the Tools Of Quality. Use them all the time, even if you use them wrong, because when you use them wrong, guess what? You’re going to learn something.

“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s create a hassle-free America, a disease-free America. Let’s go out and improve something this week.”