Graeme Newell

Plan Continuation Bias

It was a deadly fire that 1500 people saw coming, but most chose to ignore. It was 1977 and a dazzlingly fun night of dinner and dancing was rolling out at the Beverly Hills Supper Club. When a fire broke out in the kitchen, Walter Bailey, a 17-year-old waiter, grabbed a microphone and stood up on a table in the middle of the ballroom. He calmly informed partygoers about the fire and instructed them to carefully head for the exits.

But few people moved. The guests thought of the expense of their ticket and how much they were enjoying the food and drink. John Davidson, a popular singer of the day, was about to come on stage. They didn’t want to rush out if it wasn’t really necessary. Four minutes later, the power failed, then the dark room was engulfed in smoke. 167 people died that night.

All of us have a powerful inclination to stick with our original plan. Bad news should make us rethink, but tunnel vision kicks in. We worked on the original plan so hard. Now, completing that plan will be more difficult, so we double down on our determination. We do our best to muscle through and just hope that the original plan might still work.