Oct 16, 2018 · 4 min read

by Dana Vetan, Design Sprint Facilitator & Head of Training @ Design Sprint Academy

It’s easy to believe that by simply assembling a diverse team of experts and applying the rules of a design sprint, we have mastered the perfect recipe for generating top innovative solutions. Blinded by the efficiency of the Design Sprint (and I must admit that building and testing a prototype in just 5-days is pretty efficient) and also by the team-building momentum, we may think the process itself is enough. What if it isn’t?

I believe we are hardwired to survive, not to create! And this could be our most significant impediment in generating creative ideas and making bold decisions within a design sprint!

My former CTO was a brilliant man. He could design the most complicated algorithms and software architectures, but he was utterly clueless about booking a flight or organizing a meeting. Have you ever met someone like that? A genius when it comes to some tasks but completely lost when it comes to others?

Neuroscientists and psychologists explained the way our brain works by making a distinction between two types of thinking, two types of systems: one that is automatic and another one that is reflective. The Automatic System is intuitive, rapid and feels instinctive — like when you duck down because a ball is thrown at you, or when you smile at seeing a puppy, or when you speak your native language. In contrast, the Reflective System is deliberate, slow and self-conscious — like deciding which route to take for a trip, or what career to choose, or like me, running design sprint training in English, which isn’t my native tongue. I truly do envy bilingual people who can speak both languages using the automatic system.

Look at it this way: the Automatic System is a gut reaction, and the Reflective System is our conscious thought.

Now, gut feelings can help us a lot and can be quite accurate, especially when we are bombarded with lots of information every day and as our lives are complicated and hectic enough. Imagine how impossible it would be to reflect and rationalize every single bit of information we receive. Our species was able to survive because of our “gut feeling”, because of the Automatic System that used mental shortcuts or ‘rules of thumb’ to help us understand the world and make quick decisions. Although critical for survival, relying heavily on our Automatic System can lead to systematic biases.

Overall more than 100 biases are influencing the way we understand, behave, and remember things. Here is a nice graphic from Wikipedia:

We’re human, so let’s just be honest — we are biased! How could we not be if biases emerge from the interplay between the Automatic System and the Reflective System? Once we make our peace with that, we need to see why this topic is even relevant in a design sprint.

Why should we care about biases in sprints?

From my perspective, as a Design Sprint Facilitator, I can think of three main reasons:

  • Less creative ideas. Known broadly as the ‘curse of knowledge,’ biases rely on our past experiences and ways of applying prior knowledge, particularly in decision making. The more previous success we’ve had in applying that knowledge, the harder it is to imagine alternatives or new solutions. In a design sprint, the more experienced the sprint team is, the harder it gets for them to think divergently.
  • Less courageous decisions: although evolution happened, our brains will instinctively reduce uncertainty and keep us on the ‘safe path’ wherever possible. We are hardwired to survive, not to create. In a design sprint, the team and the deciders will pick the safest solution and will make the obvious decisions — so, basically, no experimenting.
  • Sticking with bad investments: Sunk-cost thinking tells us to stick with a bad investment because of the money we have already lost on it. In a design sprint, we might not want to start from scratch even if there is no reason to continue on that same path; we might not let go of ideas that don’t work just because we already invested resources in them.

Want to know more about biases?

In our Design Sprint Bootcamps, we focus on getting to effective outcomes and making better decisions, so we teach decision makers and design sprint facilitators about what triggers biases in sprints and what strategies do we have to avoid them. If you want to dive deep into facilitation and run successful design sprints, join us in Berlin, London, NYC, or our global network of partners.

Design Sprint Academy

Learn how to run Design Sprints successfully


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Design Sprint Academy

Learn how to run Design Sprints successfully

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