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Cognitive Biases

by Tim McMullen

Picture this: a bias-free world. Pretty nice, huh? There are hundreds of different biases out there, and while ridding the world of all of them might be an overwhelming goal, there are steps we can take to mitigate the ones that pop up regularly in our lives. Biases we run into during our day-to-day professional lives are dangerous because they are enemies of innovation; they dull our work and keep us from peak performing.

Here are common examples and how to avoid them:

Anchoring Bias

This is the tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. In creative work, the first good idea we have makes us value other ideas less or even become unable to see them, especially if they come from someone else. We can combat the anchoring bias by asking ourselves, “What if I couldn’t use this answer?” Following a creative plan allows us to explore other alternatives.

Effort Bias

This is the tendency for us to value effort over outcomes, especially when it is our work. In our creative world, we value things we’ve worked hard on more highly than things that come easily, even when the outcomes are similar. Asking ourselves why this is dangerous can help put things in perspective.

Relativity error

This is when we value things in relationship to the cost of other things, rather than objectively. Regarding creative projects, we value our work against the work of others as opposed to valuing it against the objective. We can mitigate this bias by asking ourselves: “What if we only have one idea?” “What happens when we remove all others — does this idea achieve the objective?” “Is this the very best work that I can possibly do?”

Selective Perception (Umbrella Bias)

This is the idea that in a complex world we see what we want to see and therefore miss other things. At redpepper, when we’re working with a product or tool for a client, we start to see a need for that tool everywhere we look. In order to reduce the umbrella bias, we can ask ourselves why this perspective might be dangerous and what we might be missing or overemphasizing.

The trick is to not try and mitigate a bias while it’s happening, but to plan for it and build in a contingency ahead of time. It all starts with being aware of what’s going on in that fantastic mind of yours!

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