How often have we been at our best at moments of adversity rather than prosperity? How much more effective are we at completing a task when we’re busy and have little time, rather than when we have an open schedule and nothing but time? Too much comfort isn’t normal to the human condition.
Our species has evolved by adapting to constant hardship and imminent danger. Our bodies are confused by too much time on the couch in front of a flickering screen. Yet we crave comfort, which can often be our undoing.
We therefore look for ways to artificially challenge ourselves with self-created goals and self-imposed time constraints. We also need to learn about our many blind spots in decision-making.
“Learning” is the subject of a book I recently finished. Bradley Staats’ Never Stop Learning covers the importance of learning and some ways that we avoid it. One of these pitfalls is the availability bias, where we place too much faith in an explanation that is most readily available to us. A leader who makes decisions based upon the last conversation they had is an example of someone who falls victim to availability bias.
We’ve all seen it. I once worked at a company where the employees were terrified when they saw the CEO reading a book (which thankfully in that case was infrequent). They knew that the CEO, seized with the fervor of that particular book, would disrupt the work the team was focused to haphazardly introduce some new strategy idea he read about. That’s availability bias in action.
As I was reading the Staat’s book, I was taken by this quote:
Chartier’s quote makes immediate sense to all of us. We know that the first plausible idea we have has an overwhelming chance of being THE idea we implement. Stopping the downswing portion of a golf swing is very difficult. Once golf swings and ideas get set in motion, the chances of stopping them diminish rapidly.
The military addresses this by creating “Red Teams”, which serve as OPFOR (Opposing Force) to probe for weaknesses in US tactics and strategy. The military knows that people too close to the strategy are blinded to its weaknesses.
Practical Steps You Can Take:
- Designate a team or a person to be your “OPFOR”, or Red Team. Make someone else find the weaknesses in your idea that you are blind to.
- Do not commit to an idea without first writing down a minimum of three strong ideas. In fact, I believe that creating good ideas comes from some sort of “creativity muscle” that, like all muscles, can atropy or strengthen based upon use. But I am not a doctor.
- Look for people who might suffer from availability bias and think about how you might be making this normal human mistake. When you are thinking about a solution to a problem, ask yourself what recent conversation might be exerting a disproportionate influence on your reasoning.