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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ธ ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚โ€™๐—ฟ๐—ฒ ๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ต๐˜? ๐—ง๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ธ ๐—ฎ๐—ด๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป.

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

Cognitive biases may unknowingly impact your decisions as a leader. Here are the main ones to consider.

๐๐ž๐ ๐š๐ญ๐ข๐ฏ๐ข๐ญ๐ฒ ๐๐ข๐š๐ฌ occurs when measuring two pieces of equal information where the bad one far outweighs the good one. For instance, we linger on one bad comment in an otherwise fantastic review.

It makes sense evolutionarily. Early humans who worried constantly were much more likely to survive many dangers. Now, this bias can make us risk adverse, slow to act by dwelling on potential flaws, and ruminating on what went poorly instead of what went well.

How do we respond to this bias?

๐—•๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Seek positive input from advisors, the team, and experts when tempted to dwell on a mistake. While they always should provide critical feedback, it does not always have to be negative. (A tendency to only see the negative is a limited perspective.)

๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Recognize and announce achievements since it requires at least five to offset a single bad incident.* That is, others will need to hear positive comments five times to even out one negative comment. You need to share both and realize the proportions.

๐—ฃ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Record your accomplishments knowing it will take five of them to offset just one bad event. Consider updating a list of accomplishments weekly. You will likely spend 99% of your time on what needs to change and improve, you deserve this list.


๐‚๐จ๐ง๐Ÿ๐ข๐ซ๐ฆ๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง ๐๐ข๐š๐ฌ urges us to find information and data which supports our own ideas. The bias makes us less willing to accept othersโ€™ ideas and we may be unable to appreciate others' creative, game-changing recommendations.

In politics, if you see someone in your party say something clever, you think itโ€™s wonderful, but if they make a mistake, you interpret that as theyโ€™re just having a bad day. In startups, the effects are much less noticeable, but one example is when someone from another role or team shares ideas which seem naรฏve but may prompt the right pivot.

How do we respond to this bias?

๐—•๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Encourage and test new ideas. If all ideas get ignored, the implied message will be only you are right. Seek advice from people not steeped in your current challenges, across the team and from outsiders who have a fresh perspective.

๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Beware creating vanity metrics (instead of industry metrics) to defend growth. Solicit and compile all ideas from diverse sources to encourage innovation. Force yourself to discuss progress to others from other industries to gauge their reactions.

๐—ฃ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Set yourself as an example of someone open to input and ideas. For instance, ask employees and peers, โ€œWhat could I have done differently to make this better?โ€ in order to grow. This will help push past their desire to agree with you.


๐“๐ก๐ž ๐๐š๐ง๐๐ฐ๐š๐ ๐จ๐ง ๐„๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐ž๐œ๐ญ is when judgement is made based on limited or prevailing information. This causes us to ignore new information and strong ideas in favor of others' opinions, which are often built on an echo chamber as much as research and science.

Remember in high school when fashion trends raced through the halls? More seriously, this plays out when trial juries are heavily influenced by one or two members.

How do we respond to this bias?

๐—•๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Avoid following industry competitors going down the same path if that path doesn't work for you. Many successful companies were considered contrarian at the time when it came to branding, positioning, and operations.

๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Combat this bias in meetings by asking attendees to individually submit thoughts beforehand. After discussion, consider ranking priorities privately to help decide. However, groups can be useful for nonjudgmental brainstorming to generate ideas.

๐—ฃ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Encourage a โ€œdevilโ€™s advocateโ€ when making serious decisions. People hesitate to offer contrarian beliefs, even despite serious consequences. If you encourage someone to challenge the dominant thinking, that opens up your perspective.


๐€๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐ข๐ง๐ข๐ญ๐ฒ ๐๐ข๐š๐ฌ is when we prefer people who appear and think like us. This thinking tricks us into believing that competent employees and great ideas are always objectively measured.

A minor version of this bias occurs when someone on the team reminds the founder of a good friend or relative. It also plays out in racism and discrimination when unconscious decisions preference certain groups.

How do we respond to this bias?

๐—•๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Ensure hiring practices encourage diverse candidate sources, objective qualifications, blind screening, and unbiased interviews based on work-related criteria. Consider a recruiting or HR expert to review your practices for diversity and inclusion.

๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Beware promotions and bonuses being unknowingly influenced and check training, networking, and mentoring benefits are fairly distributed. You can objectively measure the distribution of compensation and opportunities.

๐—ฃ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Recognize this bias likely affects you and your colleagues. Confirm someone in the company is responsible for diversity and inclusion best practices. Talk with leaders from different backgrounds to expand your perspective.


๐…๐ซ๐š๐ฆ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐„๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐ž๐œ๐ญ is the tendency to see any information through the lens by which it is presented. This bias makes us ignorant to other options by seemingly presenting only one or two ways to view a problem.

The pandemic was often framed in terms of either 'save the economy' or 'lock everything down'. However, various governments applied a range of public policy options which ignored that dichotomy.

How do we respond to this bias?

๐—•๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ When presented with a problem and single solution, open discussions by digging deeper into why there is concern. Step back to ask, "Why is this a problem?" or "What's the best outcome here?" to reframe the issue.

๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Frame job responsibilities in terms of achieving company goals, not in terms of whether the person is doing the work the way you would expect. Base decisions on vision, values, and strategy to make sure everyone sees the big picture.

๐—ฃ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Apply this framework in resolving your own problems. When faced with a tough decision, avoid constraining yourself to one or two options by stepping back and asking where do you want to reach in the near future and how does this decision fit.


๐‹๐จ๐ฌ๐ฌ-๐€๐ฏ๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ๐ข๐จ๐ง ๐๐ข๐š๐ฌ (also known as Sunk Cost Bias) is that once a decision is made, we would rather stick with it due to an emotional investment. You may see this framed in terms of resources e.g. โ€œweโ€™ve already spent so much on the project, why stop now?โ€

This makes us hesitant to change course once started or unwilling to terminate a long-time employee who performs poorly or cannot handle new responsibilities as the company grows.

How do we respond to this bias?

๐—•๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Evaluate programs on a go-forward basis, starting from zero every new evaluation. Continue based on the programโ€™s metrics. If a program is no longer performing as desired, appreciate the past achievements and channel people's energy to other areas.

๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Recognize your temptation to hold on to poor performers. One's loyalty should be respected, but others are impacted by those poor performers and you have to consider them too. Letting go of someone responsibly can be a blessing for both sides.

๐—ฃ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜€๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜„๐˜๐—ต โ€“ Recognize this bias will make you and others want to stay the course on bad decisions. Momentum may be for the wrong reasons. Bring yourself to list the pros and cons and then talk it over with people who are not connected to the decision for perspective.

If you want to prosper, recognize how biases can impact your behaviors across the company and therefore undermine your success.


* This article explains how five good encounters offsets one bad:

For a full list of cognitive biases, check here:

Illustration by Elisa Riva who can be found here:

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