featured image: AJP/Flickr PD

Born to adapt

We can handle disruption better than we might imagine — in fact disruption can be beneficial to us

Koen Smets
6 min readJan 27, 2023

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About two weeks ago, my life got seriously disrupted. I have been a frequent (some might say continuous) Twitter user for well over a decade. Not really for debating or sharing my opinion *, but to find and share information, mostly about my professional interests. For almost as long, I have been using a so-called third-party app, Tweetlogix, on my phone and tablet, which perfectly suits my needs. On Friday 13 th (when else?), I found that it had stopped functioning. Soon I learned countless other users of any third-party app were afflicted by the same problem. Twitter, which has been “under new management” for a few months, appears to have disabled the access to their servers for fetching and posting messages that these apps need.

Disruptions, small…

Did I really say “ seriously disrupted”? Yes, indeed. That is precisely what it felt like. We seem to have a tendency to inflate the impact of disruptions, often well beyond their true significance. Almost by definition, they interfere with our pursuit of some goal, or with something that we are engaged in or that has our full attention. The effect it has on us is therefore keenly felt: it is worse when the television breaks down right at the start of a momentous football game, than during the breakfast show that plays in the background. We also experience the consequences very much in the moment — and that moment is all encompassing. We have little sense of the relative insignificance of the disruption, not just on a cosmic scale, but even on the scale of a week, a month or a year. (The tendency to evaluate occurrences without regard for the longer term is a manifestation of present bias.)

A minor disaster, but wait, I know what to do! (image via DALL·E)

The effect of a disruption is further amplified by a couple more innate cognitive tendencies. All else being equal, our propensity to conserve energy is a beneficial trait, which our ancestors, all the way to the most distant ones, already possessed (their peers who did not died out). This characteristic manifests itself in the status quo bias

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Koen Smets

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius