Beware of Cognitive Biases, Especially Now

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In times of great change and uncertainty, it’s important that you take the time to think things through.  Daniel Kahneman made that point in his classic “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.   Especially when under pressure, we often use shortcuts or heuristics to reach the goal quickly. One set of these are cognitive biases.

In a recent blog, Seth Godin’s blog recognized his own use of a cognitive bias. He asked: “How many moons in our solar system?” Then, he did a quick calculation: “with 8 or so planets, how many moons in total?

My guess, when challenged, was 22. I figured Earth had one, rounded up, etc.

It turns out that it’s more than 200. Saturn alone has more than 80 moons.” 

He recognized that he fell victim to the availability bias – relying on information that’s immediately accessible, rather than look at the total picture. “We assume that our neighborhood is like every neighborhood, that our situation and experience is universal. That’s rarely true.” In his wisdom, he shared this conclusion: “Embracing that on the path to empathy is a competitive advantage.”

At this time of twin crises, this is especially important. We need to address the pandemic and its consequences – we want people to be healthy and safe, and open our economy; we need to end systemic racial prejudice and brutality, and use our resources to help all people thrive.  And with no-one sure what’s the best strategy to take, we need to be on our guard to avoid simple answers that may be wrong.

That’s why I decided to share his story and bring to your attention 12 Cognitive Biases, so you can catch yourself and your team when you’re about to make them; this way you can avoid negative consequences.   How many do you make? Which is the most common? Share with us!