Thoughtscape: Thoughts and Tips from Mike Clayton


Issue 7

  Beat Bias:
Six ways to be aware of bias in your decision-making
    News and views


  Dear %1
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 Bias
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 conclusions.

2. Representativeness Bias
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 expectation.

3. Availability Bias
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 perceptions.
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 Bias
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.

6. Precision Bias
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.

For more information
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 Tip

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...


More 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.


Influence Interview
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 on mine.

More Influence - scientifically
On 4 July at 7:30pm, I will be speaking at my local Cafe Scientifiqe, 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.

Stronger Impact

I am looking forward to a planning day with colleague Angela Marshall of Appearance Management to work on our one-off event in October:

How to Make a Stronger Impact
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 profile.

You will also get complimentary copies of my book, Brilliant Influence, and Angela's book, Being Truly You in the men's or women's edition.

More information on the Stronger Impact website, or on LinkedIn.

Three hour Seminars
When you read this, I will be on tour with Practical Project Management and Risk Happens! 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 - (morning)
Risk Happens! Control Risk and Avoid Failure in Organisational Projects - (afternoon)

  • 23 June - Reading
    Copthorne Hotel

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
    Renaissance Hotel

  • 6 July Birmingham
    Copthorne Hotel

You can see all of the dates on my blog and you can book by calling 01227 252100.

Book News
Brilliant Stress Management and Risk Happens! are now in the final stages.  Proofs are corrected, so I hope to see copies soon.  Publication dates are:

Risk Happens!
15 July

Brilliant Stress Management
12 August

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
6 December

Brilliant Influence and Brilliant Time Management go from strength to strength, with translation rights now agreed for Polish, Simplified Chinese, and Arabic.


My focus this year ...
... 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:  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.

Best regards


I recognise you get a lot of email and I don't want to add unwanted inbox clutter.  I intend to give useful tips and thoughts, but if you don't wish to get any more, I will understand, so just click the "no more emails" link and they'll stop.

Many thanks

    Please contact me ...
... Tel: 08456 441349
... on Twitter @mikeclayton01

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Mike Clayton, 2011