Beware of These 5 Cognitive Biases

One of them tripped up JFK

“A transparent skull model in a corridor” by jesse orrico on Unsplash

The 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion is the most famous example of groupthink.

The Eisenhower administration planned an invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro, who came to power in 1959.

The subsequent Kennedy administration didn’t stop to question any of the CIA’s assumptions.

Instead, they pressed ahead with the disastrous invasion plan because it was already in motion.

More than 100 members of the Cuban invasion brigade were killed and 1,200 captured because of old equipment and the unwillingness of the Cuban population to join the invaders, amongst other factors.

You might not be planning an invasion of Cuba, but groupthink is one of many cognitive biases that influence your thinking and how you work.

In this article, I explain how to avoid groupthink as well as four other common cognitive biases today’s executives should be wary of.

Groupthink

You and the rest of the team have spent weeks preparing for the latest product launch.

This new product is a little like the last iteration, which didn’t sell, but that doesn’t matter.

Everyone has put their petty grievances aside and now talks about “being aligned.”

Each team member agrees the company’s latest product is exactly what customers want — even if they don’t know it yet. In reality, there’s little proof the product will be a success or failure.

To avoid groupthink, hold a pre-mortem where you and the team brainstorm about what could go wrong and how everyone would react if the worst happened.

Self-serving Bias

You believe failures are a result of factors beyond your control, whereas successes are a result of your hard work.

For example, let’s say you worked on a marketing campaign that missed its targets.

Well, let’s blame Joe from accounts who cut the budget for your campaign last-minute.

That lousy Facebook algorithm is to blame too.

It’s just too hard for a new campaign to rise above the noise on social media today.

Or…

You could take ownership of the campaign by establishing what worked and didn’t work then adjust your targets for the next campaign.

Information Bias

“Laptop and lamp on desk with stacks of books and files” by freddie marriage on Unsplash

So you’re tasked with conducting some product research.

It’s easy to type a query into Google, write up what you find and tick “research” off your list.

However, Google sorts and filters questions and answers based on their popularity and how well they’re optimised for search.

Behold the echo chamber of the modern working life.

Search engines are useful, but you’re reviewing information everybody can immediately access.

You’re at risk of echoing existing thinking.

Where’s the value in that?

It’s harder to find alternative sources, but this blood and sweat will build the credibility of your research.

Pick up the phone and talk to a customer. Read a top-rated book from another industry. Study that lengthy internal report.

Scarcity Effect

Have you ever thought of a fantastic idea for a work project and said, “I don’t want to use this idea right now. I’m saving this idea for when the time is right”?

While it’s great to have a bank of ideas you can draw upon when the bills are due, don’t hold back on your great idea because you’re waiting for a visible project that will win you lots of kudos.

It’s much better to act now and presume the well of creativity will refill itself when you need another idea.

You must trust using one idea will lead itself to a better idea later on.

At the very least, you’ll find out quickly if your “great idea” is what people want to buy or use.

The Dunning Kruger Effect

As a new executive, the more you learn, the less confident you feel about your work.

A marketing executive six months into his or her role will study the latest trends in Facebook advertising and think, “I could never master all those analytics.”

A new designer will take Adobe Creative Cloud tutorials and say, “I’ll never be able to learn all of these new tools.”

A manager will watch a more experienced peer present to her colleagues and wonder, “How will I ever convey information like that?”

Instead of procrastinating and wallowing in self-doubt, remember to focus on getting 1% better, day in, day out.

Remember, we are all vulnerable to cognitive biases. The trick is to become aware of them and then take action so they don’t trip you up.