Conquering Cognitive Bias

Getting Past Yourself to Achieve Innovation

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Have you ever taken a step back and realized how much can go into our daily decisions? Things as simple as picking out a tie or a place to eat can become an ordeal thanks to overthinking. Sometimes that little voice in our head just won’t pipe down.

Luckily, our mind does this neat little trick where it creates decision-making shortcuts to keep us from getting a headache every time we have to decide anything. Or is this so lucky? According to innovation process consultant and Onward Nation alum Beth Storz (episode 615 linked here), these little shortcuts, called cognitive biases, are a huge roadblock to innovation and progress.

The granddaddy of all these biases is negativity bias. Negativity bias tells us that bad is stronger than good and makes us fear loss more than we crave gain. This bias may have helped our ancestors survive, but it keeps us from taking risks and being creative. Beth’s solution? A mindset shift she’s coined “for-ness thinking”.

For-ness thinking encourages people to recognize when negativity is stifling their ability to think clearly. It makes you ask what YOU are for and change your concerns about negative costs to questions about how to overcome those costs. Rather than saying something is too expensive, ask how you can make something more affordable. Think of people you wish to partner with or what you wish to do. Let your creative juices flow!

Negativity bias isn’t the only barrier to innovative thinking out there. In fact, Beth and her team have identified eight. She shared some more of them with me and the best practices for fighting through them and taking your company to the next level.

The “curse of knowledge” bias affects experts in their fields whose knowledge closes them off to new ideas. An expert on salad dressing (definitely not me) might think dressing must be high-fat, vinegary, and come in a bottle. With a group of other people, this expert can break through the bias by “assumption busting”. They take their assumptions about dressing and act as if they’re no longer true. At the end, you could end up with sweet, low-fat salad dressing served in a spray can. Nuts, right?

Another big bias comes from the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” saying: status quo bias. When we think of new ideas, we tend to be way more critical of them than what we’re doing right now because we like what we’re doing already. It’s easy. It doesn’t require us to change anything. But if you put your current processes to the same tests as your new ideas, often you’ll see that it was time for a change after all.

Availability bias is exactly how it sounds; you’re biased toward what’s available to you. This can be your own ideas, your resources, or anything else within arm’s reach. Beth’s quick fix is to work alongside people with outside perspectives and resources. They can freshen up your views and grant you new ideas. This fits nicely into the best mentor advice Beth has gotten: hire people smarter than you. Never feel scared or threatened by the talent of others. Give them a chance to shine, and you might just end up with salad dressing in a spray can. Again, that’s nuts.

I was blown away by Beth’s crazy behavioral knowledge, but her most important advice stuck with me: never rest on your laurels. Always be improving, even when times are as tough as can be. Surround yourself with supportive, creative people, and don’t shoot down new ideas. If you never lose hope and look for the positive, you will find yourself with incredible new innovations.

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