Why did it take Adidas so long to drop Kanye West? Long story | Opinion

“Adidas does not tolerate anti-Semitism and any other sort of hate speech. … The company has taken the decision to terminate the partnership with Ye immediately,” according to its Oct. 25 news release. That statement conveys a principled and admirable stance against anti-Semitism after the rapper formerly known as Kanye West tweeted on Oct. 10 that he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”

Yet Adidas waited much longer than other companies that cut ties with Ye. Even Ye’s own talent agency dropped him before Adidas.

A German company founded by a former member of the Nazi party, Adidas had an especially strong reason to drop Ye earlier than other companies did. It faced mounting pressure from the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations to drop Ye, given its past.

Yet Adidas refused to drop the rapper until all the other companies dropped him. Instead of getting ahead of the problem immediately after Ye’s Oct. 10 tweet, the company had to be shamed into cutting its ties with him. As a result, Adidas seriously damaged its brand, harming its reputation among anyone opposed to anti-Semitism. After all, it appeared Adidas dropped Ye because of the pressure, rather than the content of his tweet.

What explains the Adidas leadership’s poor decision-making? It’s a classic case of the ostrich effect: a dangerous error in judgment where our minds refuse to acknowledge negative information about reality. It’s named after the mythical notion that ostriches bury their heads in the sand at a sign of danger. The ostrich effect is a type of cognitive bias, one of many mental blind spots that impact decision-making in all areas of life, from the future of work to mental fitness.

The Adidas leadership buried its head in the sand. It refused to acknowledge the growing damage to its brand from Ye’s anti-Semitism.

The root of Adidas’ denialism likely comes from the cognitive bias known as the sunk costs fallacy. According to Adidas’ statement, the termination of the contract is expected to “have a short-term negative impact of up to €250 million on the company’s net income in 2022 given the high seasonality of the fourth quarter.” Presumably, the impact will be much higher in 2023.

The partnership with Ye had a long history since 2013, when the company signed his brand away from rival Nike. In 2016, Adidas further expanded its relationship with the rapper, calling it “the most significant partnership ever created between a non-athlete and an athletic brand.”

In other words, Adidas invested a great deal of money and reputation into its relationship with Ye. That kind of investment causes our minds to feel strongly attached to whatever we put those resources into — and throw good money after bad.

Similarly, you’ll see sunken costs in major relationships. That can range from marriages that lasted much longer than they should have to brand partnerships like the one between Adidas and Ye.

I’ve seen many executives struggling with the same mental blind spots when they face top performers engaging in bad behaviors, including incivility, sexual harassment and discrimination. Leaders deny it happened because they have so much invested in the top performer, whether a star salesperson or top data scientist, and they don’t consider the long-term consequences to the organization’s culture and employee morale.

In fact, it’s easy for anyone to fall for these cognitive biases when someone whom you value behaves badly. Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed: Knowing about these mental blind spots means you can watch out for such problems in your own professional and personal life.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is the CEO of the hybrid work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, and author of “Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams.”