Take advantage of cognitive bias to focus teams.

I’ve been seeing a number of articles recently warning against cognitive bias in organisations and how to identify and eradicate them.  Something I haven’t seen much of is the advantages of those biases.

Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that evolved over 200,000 years and are useful enough to be carried along until now. While no longer useful for dodging sabre tooth tigers, these biases are still of value if we use them right.

Groups of people generally do better with diversity in the group rather than groups where everyone is similar.  People tend to get along better when they have an affinity towards each other.

Building the right team

Also an aside, a group of diverse people that are being led in a dictatorial style by a “leader” who tells everyone what to do and how to do it may as well be considered an individual rather than a group or a team.

An effective group comes down to people who are similar enough to get on, diverse enough to challenge each other.  Reduce the friction where alignment is required and increase where exploration and validation is needed.

When forming a group understanding the purpose of the group and the assumptions around that purpose is very important.  Having a view on which assumptions are validated, and which assumptions are worth exploring further.  A team where biases are aligned with these assumptions will reduce contention in those areas and push the team to explore some of the more contentious assumptions.  The energy of the arguments, conflict, and challenges are mostly directed at the valuable research rather than (for the purpose of the goal) what should be taken for granted and re-explored.

Hindsight Bias

Image source: josephineelia.com/hindsight-bias

Embrace bias

Why would you want to introduce a cognitive bias into a project and not explore all avenues?  Sometimes thinking needs to be constrained to get a result in the time period required.  A business decision has already been made that close off avenues of research.  A partnership adds constraints.  You want your team to feel unconstrained in their work, but at the same time need to create boundaries.  Pull together a team with beliefs, opinions, thoughts, and feelings that create a blind spot where it is needed.

If you have a partnership with Apple and are looking to showcase a new technology, form a team with iPhone users rather than Android.  Visa versa if it was a Google partnership, I’m not actually biased.  The team will feel unconstrained but will gravitate to building solutions they can work with.

Simply, when building technology to span the globe, don’t be distracted by “what if it is flat”.


*Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

1 comment

  • i can’t believe that people are advocating the removal of cognitive bias – every human being in the planet comes to the world with such bias (often called prejudice – not the negative nasty sort, but the original meaning of the word. They come to the world with their pre-understanding based on all their experiences, upbringing and so on).

    This is a great post and shows exactly why bias in the way described can be used so positively and for me, is actually unavoidable.

    Such a big topic, but geat you have raised it.