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20 Biases and fallacies for product creators

By Kwame Ferreira

Product creation takes advantage of human biases and cognitive fallacies. These allow us to create increasingly effective experiences. Here is a list of 20 to take into account when creating products. Use at your own peril. Remember, products not only mediate our relationship with the world, they are the biggest change agents available to us.

1. Appeal to popularity

A fallacy that states that a belief’s popularity means it must be true. This is not the case in real life, but it is the case in product creation. Product development is guided by popularity. Popularity is truth. Big numbers win.

2. Anchoring bias

People are over reliant on the first piece of information they get. Product creators use this bias when crafting their flows. Users will remember one thing (not two or three) and anchor subsequent experience on that. What are your product anchors?

3. Bandwagon effect

People will adopt what others are already using. This perception can be manipulated to drive engagement. 15 people are viewing this item. 10k positive reviews. “Bandwagon that experience!” I’ve often heard. Sounds naughty.

4. Product innovation bias

Product creators tend to overvalue the usefulness of their innovation/creation. Ensure you build in real world testing as early as possible in the creative process. Fail fast. Learn faster. Let your product speak the truth, not pat yourself on the back.

5. Recency

We overvalue information based on what is more recent. When creating products, ensure you are aware of what is top-of-mind. Users have a very small clipboard. Assume that their most recent experience will shape their next experience far more than any prior step in the journey.

6. Survivability bias

For every product that is successful, countless are not. As product creators, learn from the ones that failed. They will teach you far more than the ones that survived. Use this to hire. Product people who have failed can be grumpy, but they’re priceless.

7. Zero risk bias

We have discovered people love certainty. If your product reinforces this along its experience, it is more likely to be successful. Your order is 10 minutes away and a display of the courier on the map provides certainty. Certainty builds product trust.

8. Stereotyping

Play to peoples’ stereotypes. They exist as mental shortcuts in the absence of information or time. When crafting your product experience, time will always be against you. You will need to rely on stereotypes to buy yourself time and drive focus. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Product creation is not an art. It’s a business.

9. Salience

People will remember the most salient feature of your product. That’s all they will remember. I know, tough love.

10. Ostrich effect

As product creators you will have to fight the tendency to ignore negative feedback. If you do so, you and your product will die prematurely.

11. Outcome bias

Just because you won in Vegas does not mean gambling was a wise decision. Well, if you are a product creator, disregard this bias. If you won in Vegas, well done you. You can brag about how amazing you are and indulge in copious amounts of confirmation biases.

12. Overconfidence

Experts tend to fall prey to this more so than your average Joe. Remember, as product creators, you are only as good as what value your product is able to deliver. Focus on that, one step at the time.

13. Sunken costs fallacy

Just because you invested $2M or six months into the product does not mean you should continue. The more you invest, the more demanding you need to be regarding success metrics. Remember, it does not get easier, it gets harder.

14. Base rate fallacy

John is shy and reads books. Is he a salesman or a librarian? You may say librarian, but you’d be wrong. There are far more salesmen than librarians. Guide yourself by the base rate when making strategic product decisions.

15. Composition fallacy

The sum can be greater than its parts. Just because atoms are lifeless does not mean that together they will be lifeless. This fallacy forces you, product creators, to lead with vision in a journey of playfulness. Play around with your options and measure, you never know what random permutation will yield value.

16, 17, 18. Availability heuristic, clustering illusions and selective perception

Product creators overestimate the information available to them. I see this all the time. They very quickly see patterns in randomness and project meaning way too easily. Be skeptical. Data needs proper context and interpretation. The best product people I know are optimists well equipped to deal with uncertainty.

19. Placebo effect

Just believing something will work won’t make it work. Just like you need to provide your users with certainty, you and your team will need some certainties. Call them wins. You will need a certain level of top-down faith, but it must be met by bottom-up evidence. Products are forged in that beautiful space where the two meet.

20. Time will simplify

Bullshit. As you create a product, complexity will inevitably increase. Ensure all the parts add up to value for the user and the planet. Lead with vision. If your team is confused your product will be confusing. Vision is the only thing that will remain simple in your journey of product creation. Believe in it.

Image credit: Iris Wang.

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