Cognitive Biases that Effect Decision Making – Maslow’s Hammer & Bike-Shedding

‘If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail’  Andrea Belk Olson talks about how biases like these affect our decision making as marketers, teams and people. 

Andrea Belk Olson talks about the fact that various  biases affect teams, organizations and people which they are not usually conscious of.

She takes an example of Maslow’s Hammer Cognitive Bias that involves an over-reliance on a familiar tool. Abraham Maslow wrote in 1966, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Andrea  talks about how most organizations take recourse to a preferred tool like a study, when confronted with a problem.  This is quite common in business when a specific methodology is touted as a solution of many problems like Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning is now, or Agile in IT  or Six Sigma was for operations.

Maslow’s Hammer reminds us that  purpose comes before  any methodology . To counteract Maslow’s Hammer, we need to recognize that Context comes first.  The same tool can either help us or harm us, and the way we decide is with an appreciation of our current context.

Another bias Andrea talks about is ‘Bike-Shedding’.

Bike-shedding describes our tendency as teams / organizations / people to to devote a disproportionate amount of our time to menial and trivial matters while leaving important matters unattended. ial matters while leaving important matters unattended. 

Andrea talks about the hypothetical example of a management team  whose job was to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant . Instead the management team spent  the majority of its time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bicycle shed.

This is also called the ‘the law of triviality’ and  is supported by behavioural research. People tend to spend more time on small decisions than they should, and less time on big decisions than they should.

Listen to conversation between Andrea and Jasravee Kaur Chandra  on  Understanding  Customers to Differentiate, Compete &  Build Customer-Centric Culture.

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