Common unconscious biases

Sometimes the way we see the world limits our ability to make good decisions or to have great ideas. The opposite of 'learning' isn't ignorance, it's already 'knowing' - its surprising how often we don't ask ourselves 'what needs to be true' for this idea to work. The cards below contain some of the most common biases - how might we check for them?

Confirmation Bias

We all see what we want to see

We believe what we want to believe by favouring information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or preconceptions. This results in looking for creative solutions that confirm our beliefs rather than challenge them

Projection Bias

We project our current understanding into the future

From behavioural economics, over-predicting future tastes or preferences will match current tastes or preferences. We tend to project the present into the future, resultin in predictions that tend to over value the extent to which the future will resemble the present. Projecing your past interferes with imagining a new future and impedes seeing novel ideas and accurately assessing the chances of success.

Authority Bias

Beware of the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person in the Office)

Favouring authority figure opinions ideas within innovation teams. This means that innovative ideas coming from senior team members trump or better all others, even if other concepts, ideas and inputs could be more creative and relevant to problem solving.

Loss aversion bias

Sometimes called 'sunk cost' bias

Sticking to a decision you've made rather than taking risks. We attach more value to something once we have made an emotional investment in it. Remember you're in love with the problem - don't fall in love with your solutions!

Action Bias

Doing something isn't always better than doing nothing

When faced with ambiguity favouring doing something or anything without any prior analysis even if it is counterproductive. Team members can feel that they need to take action regardless of whether it is a good idea or not. This can be an issue when under time pressure in strict design sprint workshops for example

False causality

Correlation is not causation

Citing sequential events as evidence the first caused the second. This can occur within the Design Thinking empathise phase where you are intentionally seeking confirmation of causality between what people say vs. what they do, leading to taking the wrong problems or needs forward to solve

Self serving bias

We want to be seen to get it right

Favouring decisions that enhance self-esteem. This results in attributing positive events to oneself and conversely negative events as blame on oneself. Within innovation workshops this can mean that decisions made can be loaded with personal agendas rather than customer and business logic for the company.

Framing Bias

The way we think about the problem impacts the solutions we can see

Being influenced by the way in which information is presented rather than the information itself. We see this one all the time particularly when developing prototypes for pitching as well as in presenting polished slides. People will avoid risk if presented well and seek risk if presented poorly meaning that decision making logic can easily be skewed

Bias against ambiguity

We draw on our experiences because we want to know the answer

Favouring options where the outcome is more knowable due to previous proven experiences. This bias can have significant impacts for innovation outcomes because it is a process that is fundamentally risky and unknown, therefore there is a strong tendency to stick to what is already known. If team members subconsciously favour what they know, you will most likely not diverge creative thinking and instead, stick closely to what you’ve done previously

Strategic misrepresentation

Watch out for over optimism. We tend to understate costs and overstate benefits

When developing innovation concepts, ballpark figures and business model prototypes, teams are prone to understating the true costs and overstating the likely benefits in order to get a project approved (which happens all the time in large governmental contracting).

Bandwagon bias

We want to be part of the gang - so we favour ideas already adopted by others

Favouring ideas already adopted by others. This is especially influential when linked to authority bias. Bandwagon effect is a common occurrence we see in workshops. The rate and speed at which ideas are adopted by others (through discussion, …) can significantly influence the likelihood of those ideas and concepts being selected by the group and taken forward

Conformity Bias

We want to fit in

Choices of mass populations influence how we think, even if against independent personal judgements. This can result in poor decision making and lead to groupthink which is particularly detrimental to creativity as outside opinions can become suppressed leading to selfcensorship and loss of ndependent thought

Hot/Cold gap

Our emotional states influence our ability to assess the potential value of an idea.

It's been demonstrated that an innovator's emotional state - whether they are hot (highly emotional) or cold (lacking emotion) - invlusence their ability to assess the potential value of an idea, leading to over or under valuation in the present, impeding the accuracy of their predictions of how others (even themselves) will react in the future (or when their emotional state is different).


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