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How Collaboration and Competition Help Overcome Cognitive Biases

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One major problem strategic planners and analysts encounter is cognitive biases — i.e., tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment. The literature on cognitive biases in the realm of strategic analysis and decision-making identifies dozens of such biases, ranging from the individual up to the organizational level. Of these, the most prominent are:

    1. Mirror Imaging: Analysts assume that the people being studied think like they do.
    2. The “Other Culture”: This bias includes several forms of misunderstanding another culture, be it that of an organization or a country. For instance, the “rational actor hypothesis” ascribes rational behavior to the other side — according to a definition of rationality from one’s own culture.
    3. Target Fixation: Analysts fixate on one hypothesis, looking only at evidence that is consistent with their preconceptions and ignoring other relevant views.
    4. Groupthink: As with individuals, groups can also reject evidence which contradicts prior conclusions.
    5. Inappropriate Analogies: Analysts make comparisons based on assumptions of cultural or contextual equivalence which might not be relevant.
    6. Organizational Culture: Often more concerned with appearances, managers may suppress conflict born of creativity in favor of the status quo.

Based on my experience as Wikistrat’s CSO and Chief Methodologist, I have learned that collaboration, competition and peer-peer criticism is the most effective way of assessing the influence of various biases on a team of analysts or planners. Collaborative models enable organizations to overcome biases by way of three “security layers”:

    1. By bringing many people to a unified working space, thus ensuring that their many perspectives influence the analytic products. By using a virtual platform, people from various fields of expertise, professional experience and even different cultures work together simultaneously and inject their own perspectives into the unified space. The groups thus avoid biases such as mirror imaging or the “other culture” bias. Furthermore, the experts tackle issues from many perspectives, thus ensuring that the group avoids the target fixation trap.
    2. The concept of competition ensures that each individual (or group of individuals) constantly challenges the rest, thus mitigating against groupthink.
    3. Online platforms themselves, if designed wisely, have the potential to prompt users to evaluate insights or strategies with respect to the biases that may have influenced the construction of their strategies. Moreover, the constructing such platforms in a way that will ensure both collaboration and competition can challenge analysts with questions and prompt them to check for alternatives, as well as to address disadvantages and the limitations of their strategies.

More generally, delegating analysis to an external crowd of experts allows organizations to battle their own biases, as they can use the exercise as a laboratory in which their ideas receive a critical examination. Read More →

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