Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Fight the Brain’s City Hall?

In the June 2011 issue of The Harvard Business Review psychologist Daniel Kahneman and colleagues present an article on attempting to overcome bias in business decision-making. Bottom line: decision makers can’t really overcome their own bias. Decision makers are swimming against a very strong current. My company, Tailwind Discovery Group is all about leveraging the existing energy, we figure out how to swim with the current. In talks I give on Behavioral Sales, I take exactly the opposite approach from Kahneman, I show you how to use bias to your advantage which turns out to be both, much easier and much more successful.


Kahneman, et al, rightly point out how insidious bias is in the workplace. When it comes time to make a decision, every one of us is overwhelmed by biases we don’t even see in ourselves. In some respects the power of the bias is given a boost by the hierarchical nature of internal relationships in the company. The decider is always the superior in rank.


In the article the authors point out that: the evidence we select in making a decision; how we weigh that evidence; and our bias toward ambiguity influence our ability to make good decisions:


“Confirmation bias, for instance leads people to ignore evidence that contradicts their preconceived notions. Anchoring (bias) causes them to weigh one piece of information too heavily in making decisions; loss aversion makes them too cautious. In our experience, however, awareness of the effects of biases has done little to improve the quality of business decisions.”...


“...this process is fraught at every stage with the potential for distortions in judgment that result from cognitive biases. Executives can’t do much about their own biases, as we shall see.”


Daniel Kahneman and colleagues bow to this fact. You can’t fight your own biases. But you can attempt to see bias at work in others, and use that intelligence to help fine tune your own decision a little bit. But you can only hope for a little bit of improvement because your own bias influences your ability to detect the same bias in others. Trying to overcome your own biases is like rowing a dingy up a waterfall.


In my Behavioral Sales talk, I show you, not how to overcome biases, but rather how to leverage them in your favor. With the Counterfactual-Hypothetical questions you will influence Anchoring bias in the buyer’s brain. Then with the Peak/End questions (as Kahneman himself showed in his work leading up to the Nobel Prize) you will influence the buyer’s brain cognitive bias. Done well, these two approaches will greatly boost your chances to win the sale.


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