We are all subject to what are known as "cognitive biases".
These are thought-patterns that we are unaware of, that influence the
choices we make. Let's examine five of these.
1. The Anchoring
This predisposes us to make inferences based on some earlier
information we had – even if that information has little or no relevance.
So imagine how powerful this effect is if there is some relevance.
This accounts for the "first speaker effect" at meetings, where the
argument that the first speaker makes in a discussion carries
disproportionate weight. Dive in!
Always examine all of the evidence before starting to draw
We like patterns, and if we can see a way that something can fit into a
convenient category, or conform to a story line, we are likely to give
that interpretation more credit than the evidence merits. This is
one of the reasons conspiracy theories persist - they create a compelling
narrative that fits our prejudices.
Randomness and statistics are better evidence than anecdote and
Recent events bias our perception of risk, because they are more available
to our intuition than counter examples. Consequently, we fear knife
crime more after a recent incident, and avoid trains after an accident.
One event does not change the statistics significantly, and may be no
indicator of a systematic change, yet it weighs heavily on our
Always evaluate recent events for systematic patterns of change.
If there are none, discount them from your thinking.
4. Affect Bias
The emotional impact of a potential threat contaminates our assessment of
that threat, leading us to fear it more than we should. Dread
diseases and nuclear accidents are extremely rare (nuclear is the safest
mass energy production technology by any measure) but our perception of
their impact makes them seem more likely.
Separate probability from severity and examine them separately.
5. The Sunk Cost
Once we have made an investment - of time, money or reputation - in an
idea, we are loath to give it up. That investment makes us feel it
is important to continue, long after its ultimate value has been shown to
be diminished or even wipe out. This is why failing projects are
rarely cancelled - even though they can no longer deliver benefit.
Evaluate the cost to completion and compare with the value at
completion - this is the true measure of whether to continue.
One of the biggest culprits for failed businesses and projects going wrong
is the trap we fall into because precision seems good. We mistake
the precision of our calculations and the detail of our plans for accuracy
and we place too much faith in them. This blinds us to the faulty
assumption on line 1 or the erroneous formula at line 385.
The "back of an envelope" is a powerful tool for checking your
calculations and plans.
To learn about how our biases influence our perceptions of risk, "Risk
Happens! Managing Risk and Avoiding Failure in Business Projects"
will be available on 15 January. You can
pre-order from Amazon.
Coffee Shop Influencing
How does the way coffee shop
loyalty card schemes work affect the way we perceive them? What
difference can one stamp make? Take a look at
this article comparing two schemes and you may be surprised...
Lessons from The Apprentice
I am continuing my lessons from The Apprentice
and found, last week, that character was all. I am away touring on
Wednesday night, so may be unable to do my regular Thursday morning blog.
So, in Lord Sugar's words: "I
have lined up a treat for you" from 7am on Thursday 16 June.
To read each article as it comes
out, go to my blog or
subscribe to my rss feed.
Last week I did a 25 minute interview with Rob Brown of
Business Building for Bankers, on influencing know-how. This is
sharp, well-edited, and covers lots of tips. You can hear it on
Rob's site or
Influence - scientifically
On 4 July at 7:30pm, I will be speaking at my local
in Winchester, on The Psychology of Influence. If you are local, do
come along - if not,
look up your own local branch - great fun!
Details of the event here.
I am looking forward
to a planning day with
Marshall of Appearance Management to work on our one-off event in
How to Make a Stronger
when Selling and Presenting
This event will take
place from 9am to 1pm on 4 October, at Fetcham Park House in Surrey.
You will hear me speak on business influence and how to present a
persuasive argument, and Angela will explain how having the right
professional image and business etiquette will give a great boost to your
You will also get
complimentary copies of my book,
and Angela's book, Being Truly You in the
More information on
the Stronger Impact
website, or on
When you read this, I will be on tour with
Practical Project Management
Control Risk and Avoid Failure in Organisational Projects.
There is still one more chance to book and hear these seminars this summer
Practical Project Management
Control Risk and Avoid Failure in Organisational Projects
We are now promoting June and July
dates for my new seminar -
The Three-hour MBA
- (afternoons) along with
Brilliant Time Management
(mornings0. These are on:
30 June – London
RIBA in Portland Place
5 July – Manchester
6 July – Birmingham
You can see
all of the
dates on my blog and you can book by calling 01227 252100.
Risk Happens! are
now in the final stages. Proofs are corrected, so I hope to see
copies soon. Publication
Brilliant Project Leader
is on its way to Pearson. It is looking really good and I do feel it
should be a set text for all Apprentice candidates! I am
looking forward tremendously to publication in December.
Brilliant Project Leader
Brilliant Time Management go from strength to strength, with
translation rights now agreed for Polish, Simplified Chinese, and Arabic.
My focus this
... is on writing, responding to press enquiries, and new speaking
engagements. If you know a conference organiser
who is looking for an engaging speaker with great testimonials, please do
send them to my website:
www.mikeclayton.co.uk. If you need a speaker now, just
contact me using the links below, or
the contact form on my
website. You can download my
speaker pack here.