Why cognitive bias is the real problem with your work.

Why is it no matter where we work we run into the same frustrating behaviors in our team, our clients, and even ourselves time and time again? More than likely there are some basic psychological biases we all have that are causing and fueling these problems. In this episode, we are going to look at the 6 different types of cognitive bias that are effecting your work, what you can do to start to fight each one of them and help you understand why all of this is critical to your work, your team and your company.

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The more companies and people I work the more I see how we all share the creative condition but we also share some huge common problems. One of the biggest one is why do pretty much all creatives run into the problem of not being able to get the people around them to see what they see, to try new things or always run to solutions? We might want to blame these problems on individual personalities but the good news is that the problem runs much deeper. These barriers and behaviors are so common because they are part of our shared psychology. As I have worked with more companies the more I have seen this commonality so the more I have been studying it. In this episode, we are going to look at cognitive bias which is the psychological basis for these problems, understand why.

The challenge.

The challenge of doing anything creative is that there is no set or right answer to the problem. This means that your success is linked to the people you work with, the way that they think and any biases they might bring into the process. As creatives we are more used to taking risks, experimenting, staying open minded and dealing with uncertainty. By no way does this mean that just because you are creative that are immune from having these same problems and biases. But it does mean that if you want to be a successful creative then you are going to have to learn to identify and deal with these basic human psychological biases.

Cognitive bias

What the heck is cognitive bias and why is it important? It is important because cognitive bias is the foundation for most of the problems you are probably having with your team, co-workers, and clients. Cognitive biases are a deficiency or limitation in our thinking that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations. There are 12 types of cognitive bias. I will post an article that gives an overview of all 12 but there are 6 that I want to focus on. I think these 6 are the ones that affect creative most often as the largest number of teams I have worked with.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that fuel our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions – no matter how valid – that you don’t agree with. This means you surround yourself with people who agree with you.

This can become a weakness in creative teams is everyone just agrees with you. It can also become a company or leadership problem is you surround yourself with people who only agree with you then you will never become innovative or find any differentiation.

Your challenge:
– Deliberately seek out perspectives and thinking that challenge your work and thinking.
– This may also mean that you need to think about this when hiring and create teams or pairing with different ways of thinking or working so they can push each other and do better work.

Bandwagon effect

The bandwagon effect is when the masses start to pick a winner or a favorite, that’s when our individualized brains start to shut down and enter into a kind of “groupthink” mentality. You see this the most when teams work with executives where they will simply wait for the senior person to say something and figure out why they agree with it.

This ideation by seniority does not work for a lot of obvious reasons but mainly because you are taking away the thinking and experience of the team. But it also means that if your team does this then their work isn’t being challenges enough, it isn’t being refined enough and as a result will fall far short of its potential.

Your challenge:
– If you are on a team you need to say what you really think and seek out diverse perspectives.
– If you are a leader you need to be aware of this and speak last, speak in problems or maybe not even speak at all.

Observational selection bias

Observational selection bias is noticing things we didn’t see that much before – but we wrongly assume that the frequency has increased.

The best example I know if this happens when you want to buy a car. You go through the process and start to settle on the one you think you want. Then all of a sudden you see that car everywhere and feel better and better about your decision. You feel like since you now see these things so much that your thinking must be right and you are doing the right thing. The fact is that the same number of cars is out there as there has always been but now your brain is noticing them more because of your shopping process.

Your challenge:
– Don’t run to solutions.
– Stay open to the possibilities without focusing on just one.

Projection bias

Project bias comes from the fact that it’s difficult for us to project outside our own preferences or way of thinking. We tend to assume that most people think just like us – though there may be no justification for it. I see this expressed the most when teams use personas as they can project their feeling and thoughts on to that persona and mutate it from its purpose.

Your challenge:
– Don’t think you are your consumer or who you are designing for. Go talk to real people and get real reactions instead of projecting how you think they will react.

Negativity bias

Negativity bias is that people tend to pay more attention to bad news and given the choice, we perceive negative news as being more important and credible. The problem with this is that when you are doing something creative you are going to get things wrong and you are going to make mistakes.

On the team you need to make sure everyone understand that it is only a mistake if we do not learn from it and iterate after it. This way there is no negativity and they always see the way forward. For clients and people surrounding the team you need to educate them that this is a normal part of the process and nothing to worry about. If not then they will fixate on the negativity, loose confidence and short circuit the process.

Your challenge:
See the possibilities and the challenges.

Anchoring effect

The anchoring effect comes from the fact that we tend to compare and contrast only a limited set of items because we fixate on something that in turn gets compared to everything else. This happens in the creative process when we get our first idea. We feel a sense of relief that we have an idea and then we anchor on it.

Your challenge:
Force yourself into distinct lines of thinking with multiple ideas so you don’t anchor on to just one.

Focus on the busines

Think win-win

Final thought

I have said this before but if you want to create change then you need to deal with the thinking of the company or team not just the behaviors which are the expression. You need to start teaching these things to your team, and start to help the teams you work with understand it. When you do that then you can create a set of behaviors you all can agree on that will help fight it. This behaviors then allow everyone to hold everyone else responsible to fighting these problems.

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