Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
Imagine how much harder the work is to think about how you think. Our brains are remarkably powerful, but also remarkably prone to taking short-cuts and producing what psychologists call “cognitive errors.” Simply put, we don’t often think as clearly as we might think.
To illustrate this, international bestselling author Rolf Dobelli has complied a list of 99 cognitive errors we often make. In The Art of Thinking Clearly (2013, Harper), Dobelli exposes these biases with the aim to help his readers think more clearly. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find in its pages:
- Survivorship bias: “In daily life, because triumph is made more visible than failure, you systematically overestimate your chances of succeeding.”
- Social proof: “The more people who follow a certain idea, the better (truer) we deem the idea to be. And the more people who display a certain behavior, the more appropriate the behavior is judged by others.”
- Confirmation bias: “The tendency to interpret new information so that it becomes compatible with our existing theories, beliefs, and convictions…we filter out any new information that contradicts our existing views.”
- Availability bias: “We create a picture of the world using the examples that most easily come to mind.”
- Outcome bias: “We tend to evaluate decisions based on the result rather than the decision process.”
- Endowment effect: “We consider things more valuable the moment we own them.”
- Halo effect: “A single quality (e.g. beauty, social status, age) produces a positive or negative impression that outshines everything else, and the overall effect is disproportionate.”
Several of these, my Reinventure Me co-host Armin Assadi and I discussed on our Five Blind Spots That Can Derail You podcast episode. I discovered Dobelli’s book shortly after recording that episode and was delighted to now possess a compendium of the the different ways our thinking can be derailed.
As Dobelli put it though, the objective of understanding these biases is to think more clearly, not entirely error free. “Cognitive errors are far too engrained to rid ourselves of them completely,” Dobelli writes. “Silencing them would require superhuman willpower, but that’s not even a worthy goal. Not all cognitive errors are toxic, and some are even necessary for leading a good life.”
As Ford said, thinking is hard word. Not every decision warrants a thorough review of the possible biases that may be affecting it. After all, most of our decisions are inconsequential or easily corrected if wrong. However, for the more challenging decisions in your life and business, The Art of Thinking Clearly is a helpful resource.
Comment below: What are some biases you’ve recently encountered in your own decision making?
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