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Cognitive Biases: Can it Really Happen to Me?

Jim Brosseau March 31, 2011

5th VanQ presentation! Sponsorship has its privileges! - great place to play with new topics, today’s no exception Me: tech, CAATS, PMP, consulting, book, facilitator let’s have a discussion here, swap perspectives for insights We’re nuts: always looking for the silver bullet - missing something sitting right under our nose? - nature of being human affects how we work? look differently...not either/or, but in addition to... Not sure where this will go, group will have lots of insights Acknowledge Patrick - just starting down this path Overview: characteristics, examples, group discussions - litmus test - has this idea got any legs?

. any example from the workplace? .. and failing to adequately compensate for one’s biases...“I don’t need to test my stuff.” Given all the potential biases around.Here’s an example of a bias that affects many of us this one’s called the Bias Blind Spot Definition: Tendency to see oneself as less susceptible to bias than others. I think we all have this to some degree .“I’m sure I considered all the possibilities.” .

that factor is us! Cognitive biases . ] a systematic bias in favor of the powerful. or group compared with another. • Statistics a systematic distortion of a statistical result due to a factor not allowed for in its derivation. Bias defined .I lean toward the statistics definition . person.a deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations Unconscious Cross -cultural Age independent Not avoidable through raw intelligence. to varying degrees . or introspection We’ve all got these things. personal effort.bias ¦ bīəs¦ noun 1 prejudice in favor of or against one thing. usually in a way considered to be unfair : there was evidence of bias against foreign applicants | the bias toward younger people in recruitment | [in sing.

of numbers that are generated by a rule You try to guess that rule that I’m using How? You come up with a potential next number.I say Yes or No (it follows the rule) (goes on ‘till we a) get the idea or b) see the series diverge from the preconceived set) Confirmation bias: search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.how does this impact our ability to build and test quality products? Psychologists in other disciplines. . ‘in a naive situation’: minuscule chance this won’t work .An example I need a volunteer I give a seq.We’re at VanQ . .

and skilled individuals under-rate them. early decisions.cause and effect. anyone? Memory errors Consistency bias: incorrectly recall one’s past attitudes and behaviours as similar to those of the present . Decision making behaviour Planning Fallacy: underestimate task-completion times. Agile. rework. Bandwagon Effect: do or believe things because many others do the same..potential benefits . Estimation. Probability and Belief Authority Bias: value an ambiguous stimulus according to the opinion of someone who is seen as an authority on the topic.sparse Why look at this for tech teams? .. anyone? Social and attributional: Dunning-Kruger Effect: less-skilled individuals over-rate their capabilities.A taxonomy • Decision making and behaviour • Probability and belief • Social and attributional • Memory errors Research into biases and technology teams .

" Bertrand Russell The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid.! . The effect is not specifically limited to the observation that ignorance of a topic is conducive to overconfident assertions about it. but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to appreciate their mistakes. to underscore that the highly intelligent and informed are hardly exempt. and Dunning and Kruger cite a study saying that 94% of college professors rank their work as "above average" (relative to their peers).

pick your 3 favourite biases and examples Larger group: get examples from each group (capture on whiteboard) . try to ID examples in the tech workplace (5 minutes) Within group: present your examples to the others in the group (10 minutes) Within group: voting .Part 1: Exploring Cognitive Biases Hand out worksheets: will collect them up. PDF the lot. post them afterwards Capture insights on sheets put people into groups of 4-5 (6 groups max) hand out ‘bias cards .about a dozen distribute to the group Individually: read your cards.

served us with sabre toothed tigers Garter snake vs.we’ll freak over one. .let’s look at one of these misapplications Brains wired for a world that ceased to exist long ago fight/flight .amygdala .now what? Cognitive biases are evolved mental behaviour . some due to lack (or misapplication) of appropriate mechanisms .. blithely go on with the other need to train ourselves to use our pre-frontal cortex Awareness > empowering > evolution got a long way to go.some adaptive. cognitive biases are similar..So they exist in the workplace . global warming .

“You seem to make better decisions when you have a full bladder. For example. since they might be more willing to go for the television with a bigger screen when they have an empty bladder. maybe because bladder control is largely an automatic. in one. they could choose to receive either $16 tomorrow or $30 in 35 days.” Tuk says. just thinking about words related to urination triggered the same effect. for example. Participants were asked to make eight choices. but delayed. The results were a little surprising from a theoretical point of view. after about 40 minutes—the amount of time it takes for water to reach the bladder—the researchers assessed participants’ self-control. for example. Then. So maybe you should drink a bottle of water before making a decision about your stock portfolio. participants either drank five cups of water (about 750 milliliters). The researchers found that the people with full bladders were better at holding out for the larger reward later. or took small sips of water from five separate cups. reward and a larger. Other experiments reinforced this link. But Tuk says this seems to work in a different way. but immediate.One possible approach? "Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains" The APS journal Psychological Science In one experiment. a lot of research in psychology has supported the concept of “ego depletion”—that having to restrain yourself wears out your brain and makes it harder to exert self-control over something else. unconscious process. . Or perhaps stores that count on impulse buys should keep a bathroom available to customers. each was between receiving a small. reward.

though I hope it does not spawn as many messianic dogmas as consultants. each is insufficient For me. each can provide a unique dimension to solving the problem All these perspectives are complementary. . this resonates more than the Agile manifesto.What about this one? Follows pattern of Agile Manifesto Expect that there are a number of these out already I see them as each having a different perspective on this challenge as such.

relevant remedies? .individually. then within group .potential problems .other potential solutions? Group debrief .Blank cards .could they even make matters worse? .blanks to be used as needed For the key biases identified .other ideas? .Part II: Managing Cognitive Biases second set of cards to the group: .deal out as before .Collection of approaches .would these remedies help at all? .highlights from each .

not a technical issue recall the huge costs on tech projects we’re typically not looking for these biases Recall the Biases definition up front: .How can this help us? • Raised awareness within a team to increase sensitivity to biases? • Process components to systematically remove particular biases? biases on projects? • Teams serve to average out the effect of • Other ways? it’s a psychology issue.“a factor not allowed for in it’s derivation” none of the solutions we use address them all a new approach for remediation is required .

clarrus.Blind Spot? .com www.has this idea got legs? Could we be on to something here? Were there any biases we were guilty of this evening? .brosseau@clarrus.Thoughts? Jim Brosseau jim.Semmelweis Bias? .Anchoring? .Framing? Thoughts? Questions? .Confirmation Bias? .com So .