FEAR and FOMO – change management focus needed

FEAR and FOMO - Family all looking at their mobile phones

“FOMO is what happens when I neglect to make decisions that were necessary only to discover that I let FEAR get in the way”

I’m officially exhausted by the amount of acronyms floating around that attempt to describe every condition and situation we experience. I can’t say that some of them don’t make sense but some are used flippantly in an attempt to minimize the effect or importance of a situation.

I want to talk about two of these acronyms because they are subtle drivers in our lives and how we run our businesses and manage our relationships.

FOMO is one that you are likely familiar with but may not have really thought about recently. FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out is all about the anxiety and feelings we experience around the idea that we might be missing out on more important things than what we are currently doing.

It’s hard to say when it first came on the scene and who actually coined the phrase. Credit goes back as far as 1996 and it has sprung up in various stories within the last few years. The resurgence of its popularity is due to the social media craze we’re all a part of.

Recently FOMO has been characterized as a social disorder. Wow, wasn’t expecting that but then again think about how you feel when you see posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other places, from colleagues, competitors and even broken relationships? Some make us feel anxious that we’re not engaged or involved. Others certainly make us thankful as well.

FOMO is also a major distraction. FOMO is really about the incessant behavior we display of comparing ourselves to others. It’s our discontentment with a current situation and the ongoing thought that there is something just out of reach. It distracts us from focusing on the now. It deters us from executing on plans that can create value now or in the near term. FOMO keeps us looking elsewhere and takes our eye off the ball.

The other one we need to get under control is FEAR. I suspect we all have a specific definition for this word in our heads when we hear it. It means something slightly different to each person. I first heard an interesting use of the word as an acronym a few years back in a leadership discussion. The speaker explained FEAR as “False Evidence Appearing Real”.

This really made sense to me. The more I thought about it that way the more I agreed that a good portion of my fear of a given situation is often driven by the unknown or more importantly, not really piecing together the information correctly and therefore arriving at my own assumptions. I sometimes confuse the facts and blur the lines and need to step back to see things for what they are.

Of course, you can still have all the facts absolutely lined up and still have some serious fear going on but the way it was presented when I first heard it explained this way and the manner in which it is used in this context is about poor decision-making being driven by the lack of accurate information. To take it one step further, it isn’t just the lack of accurate info but it can also be neglecting to correctly interpret the info you have before you.

A couple examples of how these two work hand in hand would look like the following:

Example #1

FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) is neglecting to make necessary investments to drive change when your organization’s mood says one thing but your market says another.

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) then sets in when you see your competitor having made the investment you were planning and they’re now getting positive results, or so it seems.

 Example #2

FEAR often leads to making changes to the team because we’ve confused our failures with someone else’s.

FOMO is the remorse of realizing that we could have invested more in that person and been a better leader.

Both FOMO and FEAR can also be motivators to do the right things. I suspect you thought that as well when reading this. Indeed, that is the opportunity we have with anything that presents a challenge.

We likely don’t refer to our emotional state or thinking in the form of an acronym but the principles exist and the reality that one of these is now viewed as a social disorder speaks volumes about the way we are beginning to characterize ourselves.