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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mental "Glitches" Are Slowing EV Sales (part 2 - Status Quo)

In part 1 of this series we examined how Cognitive Dissonance could impact the mass adoption of plug-in vehicles. In part 2, we'll explore the status quo bias.

Status Quo Bias

We all have routines. These routines are well honed and comfortable. Change is hard; it disrupts these routines and forces us to form new habits. During this disruption period we could do something foolish and mess up our whole life, or so the fear goes.

Our brains are wired to follow what we know. If you can take a path that you have walked many times or one that may also get you to your destination, you'll likely take the known path (despite Robert Frost's advice). The road less traveled is often jagged, thorny, and a dead end.


If you need to be at work for an early meeting, how likely are you to try out a new route for the first time that morning? When you are under time pressure, you do what you know works. This is common sense and likely the smart thing to do. However, if you fall back on this 'take the known path' pattern without true consideration of the alternatives, you have fallen into the status quo trap. The perniciousness of this bias is the implicit assumption that alternatives to the status quo are automatically inferior.



Here are a few phrases that might tip you off that you or someone else is using status quo bias justification:
  • This is how we have always done it.
  • This was good enough for my parents. 
  • That is how I was taught.
Throughout history, this bias has slowed the adoption for technology. Here are two quick examples: wristwatches and forks.

Wristwatches

Although wristwatchs date back the late 1500s, it was only after 3 centuries (the late 1800s) that they were seen as more than a woman's fashion accessory. The British Army began using wristwatches during colonial military campaigns. Using a pocket watch in the heat of battle or while mounted on a horse was impractical. During the First World War, tactics that required precise synchronization emerged. This meant that officers on all sides began to wear wristwatches. Military pilots found them more convenient than a pocket watch for much the same reason as the mounted infantry. Upon returning home, the public perception shifted drastically and the wristwatch found mass market adoption in the post WWI era. By 1930, the ratio of wristwatches to pocket-watches was 50 to 1.

Forks

This humble eating utensil is arguably the most ubiquitous tool on the planet. This was not always the case. When the fork was first introduced to the western world, it had detractors. It was considered unnecessary, effeminate, and only needed by those who were not skilled enough with traditional implements. The Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of it, calling it an "excessive delicacy." The fork, however, did find an enthusiastic niche. In the 11th century, the Italian peninsula hailed it as the perfect device for twirling long pastas such as spaghetti and fettuccine. Still, forks were not commonly used in Western Europe until the 16th century. It was not until the 18th century that forks became common in Great Britain and North America.

Impact on technology adoption

Ok, so wristwatches and forks took centuries after their invention to reach mass adoption. Status quo cannot be the only cause of the slow adoption of these two innovations, but the status quo was clearly set against them. The good news is that there are plenty of examples of new technology being adopted faster than on a scale measured in centuries.

New Economy Handbook: Hall and Khan November 2002

Times change. And when they do, we need to adapt.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."
~ Attributed to Charles Darwin (although there is no proof that he ever said this)

Since that quote's origin is suspect, let's use another:

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
~ Albert Einstein

The status quo bias would keep us in exactly the same model of thinking that we have always used.

Back to Plug-In Vehicles

Gasoline is the status quo today. It is easy for most people to just continue doing things the way they always have and to keep going to the pump. As long as gas prices stay below $4 USD per gallon, most people don't complain too much and would likely fall into the status quo.

What would it take to make them reconsider this habit?

It takes motivation to make a change. Wristwatches were spurred by crisis and forks by an enthusiastic niche. PEVs have both of these today.
  • Crisis: Take your pick: National Debt, Global Security, Climate Change, Environmental Damage...
  • Enthusiastic Niche: The owners of plug-in vehicles are enthusiastic. They have clubsforumsevents, and even blogs (like this one). PEVs have owner satisfaction rates that are far above their gas-powered counterparts.
The growth of EV sales from 2011 - 2014 has been double digit year-over-year growth, albeit still small, it shows no sign of slowing and it shows that the status quo bias can be overcome.


Thanks for reading part 2. Here is the link to part 3: Confirmation Bias