How bias thinking is crippling innovation

By Jenni Pennacchini, Business Solutions Director at KLA

For marketers, the key is to create opportunities for different perspectives to emerge
Instead of simplifying our world, technology has introduced far more complexity. Armed with computing power and internet connectivity, we now have instant access to unlimited information. Added to this, the pace of life and work has accelerated dramatically – leaving no space and time for reflection. Arguably, the furiously fast pace (coupled with data overload) is increasing the likelihood of bias thinking – and more specifically, for cognitive biases to creep into the majority of decision-making.

Put simply, a cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that affects the decisions and judgments that people make. That said, brands and businesses also display cognitive biases, which are often the result of marketers and strategists making swift decisions in order to stay in step with their high-pressure environments.

Missing what we are missing
So while technology may be hailed as a tool to delve deeper into information and data sets, the reality is that it may actually be accentuating bias thinking and reducing our pool of insights. For marketers, this erodes the ability to provide brands with transformative ideas, unique concepts and fresh thinking.

Take, for example, Big Data. Brands now have access to vast data sets that they can supposedly use to derive strategic insights. But where does one start? Most often by asking questions of the data, which are usually inspired by a hypothesis or set of hypotheses.

Here, we immediately create the risk of falling foul to ‘attentional bias’: we focus on what we have set up as important, and filter out what we perceive as extraneous. This is natural, but needs to be counteracted with strategies to manage the risk of ‘missing what we are missing’.

Indeed, without taking precautions, machine learning and Big Data can thus perpetuate and even amplify bias thinking.

New perspectives, new insights
Without doubt, if brands and businesses cannot counteract bias thinking internally, then the ability to innovate will lessen over time. Although biases are part of our world and always will be, marketers need to actively create opportunities for different perspectives to emerge.

Where to begin?
Here are some strategies to tackle bias thinking and to ensure that multiple viewpoints are considered.

1. Take a broad view of the ‘problem’ – understand consumer/customer behaviour from beyond the borders of your own category

2. Consider variables that may not seem to immediately impact the problem

3. Apply questioning techniques and thinking frameworks that can surface implicit as well as explicit dynamics.

4. Pay as much attention to what doesn’t work, as to what does. This is key when framing future solutions.

5. Actively seek out information that goes against your pre-existing beliefs.

6. Encourage diversity of thinking: we are more likely to see biases in others than we are to see them in ourselves.

7. Be vigilant and always consider what might be missing: think beyond immediate data sources and consider other sources of information!