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    9 Cognitive Biases That Stop Innovation in its Tracks

    9 biases that you need to be aware of.

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      Picture of Vaughan Broderick

      Vaughan Broderick

      Humans can perform unique and complex cognitive tasks. And yet, our brain is often trying to simplify information and execute decision-making using rules of thumb or heuristics.

      Innovation efforts can be negatively affected by cognitive biases. Therefore, it’s essential to be aware of them so that your company can reduce risk and maximise impact.

      As one might imagine, being aware of cognitive biases is easier said than done when working with human nature.

      In this article, I unpack 9 cognitive biases that stop innovation in its tracks.

      Projection Bias

      The tendency to project our past thoughts, feelings and behaviours onto current or future decision-making.

      What’s the risk to innovation? Projection bias is one of many cognitive biases that may lead to a lack of novel ideas.

      Innovation is the implementation of creative ideas, so we need lots of new and novel ideas to increase the odds of deriving an innovative solution.

      Solution. Start by collecting rich data on the experiences of your existing and potential customers.

      Then, use empathy tools such as ‘jobs to be done’ to understand your customer’s needs deeply. More tools are available in this article.

      Egocentric Empathy Gap

      The overestimation that our preferences will be similar to that of others.

      What’s the risk to innovation? One of the most prominent occurrences is that innovators fall in love with their ideas.

      Just because we think that something is valuable, does not mean that there is a significant enough amount of other people that will find the idea of value.

      Solution. Try to visualise the customer experience through storyboards. Learn how storyboards can help with empathy even for complex systems-based innovation in this article.

      Focusing Illusion

      Attaching too much importance on a particular idea, feature or aspect.

      What’s the risk to innovation? That ideas are too narrowly focused and a range of ideas do not surface.

      It could also be that innovators focus too much on one particular metric at the expense of another, such as having great acquisition rates but poor retention.

      Solution. In the ideas phase, use a range of perspective-taking tools, such as journey mapping.

      Allow individuals to ‘brainwrite’ in silence so that introverts can get their ideas out before group discussion focuses on the loudest voice.

      Hot / Cold Gap

      The current state impacts our ability to assess the future state.

      What’s the risk to innovation?  We might place too much importance on some ideas over others, and conversely, we might undervalue other ideas.

      Solution. Working in diverse teams can help provide balanced perspectives on ideas that are generated.

      Say / Do Gap

      When a customer’s actions differ from their stated preferences.

      What’s the risk to innovation? This is a biggy. When innovating, we are seeking to validate ideas based on actions – what people actually did.

      Often during innovation, a customer’s preferences will be stated, such as liking a particular feature.

      Then, when presented with that feature, it is not used.

      Solution. Use observation and not just questions to gather data during research.

      Then, when it comes to testing, let the customers experience the solution themselves and make choices.

      Try not to lead them down the path that you want them to take.

      Planning Fallacy

      Investing too much effort and resource into an idea making it more difficult to deviate from that path.

      What’s the risk to innovation? Most innovation does not meet the needs of its customers by connecting a clear problem-solution and solution-market fit.

      Meaning, the effort and resources that have been expended may result in a significant cost and loss.

      Solution. Get out from behind the desk, prototype and test your assumptions – early. Then, make small bets rather than one large one that makes it too difficult to pivot.

      Hypothesis Confirmation Bias

      Looking for data that confirms your hypothesis.

      What’s the risk to innovation? When you are only looking for data that confirms your hypothesis or beliefs, you are not considering data that disconfirms it. You might then be led up the garden path and draw the wrong conclusions.

      Solution. Test multiple assumptions and options, and be clear on what success will mean before the test to avoid making the outcomes fit the hypothesis.

      Endowment Effect

      Placing too much value on first ideas or solutions.

      What’s the risk to innovation?  When we place too much value on something that we already have, there may be a tendency to limit the options considered for making decisions.

      Solution. The critical point is to not simply stop at the first idea but explore other possibilities and options, which will often lead to an even better idea than the original.

      This article details the best practice process for design thinking and innovation.

      Availability Bias

      Preferring ideas and solutions that fit within our existing knowledge or examples.

      What’s the risk to innovation? That we don’t explore sufficiently to uncover ideas or solutions that may be more novel and innovative.

      Availability bias can also be self-reinforcing, becoming more and more plausible the more people believe something.

      Remember, a once long-held belief was that the earth was flat.

      What cognitive biases would you like to see added to the list? Let me know in the comments.