How to Conquer The Fatal “Pike Syndrome” Decision-Making Trap

As a keynote speaker, I teach successful professionals how to make better decisions to leap their career, company, and community forward with balance — not burnout.  I often share the results of a fascinating experiment called “The Pike Syndrome”, to my audiences as an analogy for a fatal decision-making trap business leaders fall into:  one of historical bias and/or assumptions. 

The pike is a fresh-water fish found in the great lakes.  It grows to about a foot long and is mean, aggressive, and always hungry.  In the experiment, researchers took the pike and put it in a tank with deliciously docile goldfish.  Separating the two was a removable glass partition.  When the pike saw the goldfish, it attacked.  And immediately smacked into the glass divider.  It repeatedly rammed into the glass divider until it finally gave up.  Then the researchers removed the glass partition separating the fish.  And even though there was nothing stopping it from devouring the goldfish, what do you think the pike did?  It assumed the glass partition was still there.  Its historical bias told it that if it tried to eat the goldfish, it would smack into the glass divider.  So the pike did nothing and it starved to death.

In the business world, if you and your leadership team suffer from “The Pike Syndrome” decision-making trap, it can also be fatal.  Take for example the pioneering tire manufacturer, Firestone.  Created in 1900 to provide tires to horse and buggies, it soon became the tire supplier of Ford Motor Company in 1905.  For 70 years Firestone flourished — as Ford built more plants to meet the massive demand for automobiles, Firestone built more plants to keep up with demand for tires.  The only problem Firestone knew for 70 years was keeping up with demand for its tires.  Then, in 1968 a little known French company called Michelin introduced the radial tire to the US market.  The radial tire was safer, lasted longer, and soon became a government mandated requirement.  Firestone leadership remained entrenched in the past and focussed on their historical bias of meeting demand for their old, outdated tires.  Firestone was unable to transition to manufacturing and selling radial tires in time, and by the 1980s Japanese tire manufacturer, Bridgestone, purchased Firestone for pennies on the dollar.  Bridgestone soon liquidated most of Firestone’s assets, tens of thousands of employees lost their jobs, and now Firestone exists only as a trademark.

One business transformation solution to help you and your team avoid and/or conquer this fatal decision-making trap is called the “The Pike Test” and it works like this: 

Step 1:  At the point of making a decision, pause and ask yourself and your team the following question, “What would have to be true for this option to be the best choice?”  Then brainstorm as many answers to the question as possible.

Step 2:  “If-then” your answer to death.  For example, “IF we decide to offer this technology, THEN the following needs to be true...”   Do not allow previous biases, instincts, and lessons from the past cloud your judgement in making a great decision.

Step 3:  Immediately following your decision, take 45-minutes to get into relevant action around your final decision.  Go meet face-to-face with your team.  Make a phone call to move your decision forward.  Schedule a visit with that new client/customer/colleague.  Keep that decision-making momentum moving forward!

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What historical biases or assumptions in your decision-making process do you or your team struggle with?  Have you ever said, “We can’t do that because we tried it last year and it was (insert your favorite historically biased excuse here).”?  Or have you ever said, “We always do it THIS way.  I don’t think we need to change.”?  For more ideas on how to make better decisions in business and life to leap your career, company, and community forward with balance, not burnout, please visit my website at or hit me up on Twitter @mpveltri.