How to Overcome the Availability Bias: a 4-step guide for a startup founder

We tend to overestimate the likelihood of unlikely events and underestimate the likelihood of likely events.

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It’s no secret that we tend to judge the likelihood and significance of things based on how easily they come to mind.

The more “available” a piece of information is to us, the more important it seems. The result is that we give greater weight to information we learned recently because a call with a potential investor you had last night comes to mind easier than a mentoring session you had years ago. It’s too much work to try to comb through every piece of information that might be in our heads.

“The attention which we lend to an experience is proportional to its vivid or interesting character, and it is a notorious fact that what interests us most vividly at the time is, other things equal, what we remember best.” – William James

When you fall victim to the availability bias you lose the power over connecting the dots in your growth system, you start paying too much attention to using what is only available at the moment. Thus your growth strategy transforms into a bunch of episodes vs the reliable system. This is a deadly trap for you and your startup.

This is how you can train yourself to overcome the availability bias:

Step 1. Consider base rates when making judgments about probability.

The base rate of something is the average prevalence of it within a particular population. When judging the probability of something, look at the base rate whenever possible.

Step 2. Take the time to think before making a judgment.

You can’t make a good decision without taking time to think. There’s no shortcut for that.

Step 3. Study trends and patterns.

A track record is everything, even if outlier events are more memorable.

Step 4. Keep track of information and go back and revisit old information.

If you don’t keep track, only part of the information will be available to you and you won’t be able to make a sustainable decision. And even if you think you can recall everything important, it’s a good idea to go back and refresh your memory of relevant information before making a decision.

As a startup founder, you might find it highly useful to make a list of your biases and keep it on your desk at all times, checking it whenever you need to make an important decision.

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