If you have a little spare time to explore, follow this link to Wikipedia’s list of Cognitive Biases. It’s an amazing summary of all the ways that our brains fail us. Sobering, but also empowering.   As an individual, a project team, a company or a country, there’s two paths to success:

  1. Do amazing things
  2. Do less of the crap things

While most writing focuses on the first (think Apple, Ferrari or the Gates Foundation), I want to focus on the second.   Examples of being less crap:

  • Toyota don’t make the ‘most amazing’ cars. They make cars with the fewest faults.
  • Dieter Rams didn’t design the most revolutionary products, he designed products with no obvious flaws.
  • Democracy is anything but amazing, yet it thrives through being a bit less crap.

So I’ve realised that learning to make fewer mistakes in your thinking is a really powerful way to become more effective. Examples of being more effective:

  • The Planning Fallacy refers to how people typically underestimate the time it will take them to complete a task*. I’ve now learned that “yes honey, just a minute” actually means about 10 minutes, and so I don’t start the engine just yet. When planning, looking to past examples of the task is much more effective than trying to calculate the task from scratch.
  • Anchoring is that wonderful trick where Electronics retailers will always put the $20,000 TV in front of store, so that in comparison $2000 for a TV seems cheap. I’ve now learned to deliberately set my own anchors, rather than have the store do it for me.

I’m still pretty crap. I still make loads of mistakes. But I seem to be making a few less mistakes than I used to. I’m just hoping this isn’t Wishful Thinking. Further reading:

  • There’s a nice intro article to the top 10 traps our minds fall in to at Litemind, Part I and Part II.
  • Two of the most rigorous communities discussing these ideas are Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias. They can be a little daunting to a newbie, but foster some wonderful thinking.
  • The founder of the Less Wrong community is currently writing a story in the world of Harry Potter. You get to read about approaches to better thinking, but through a familiar and fun world. An engaging read with the first chapters here.
  • And if you’re really getting in to your Cognitive Biases, Freakonomics linked to a song about them (you’ll want to be keen): http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/cognitive-bias-song/

*For one of the most famous planning fallacy stuff ups of all time, see our own Sydney Opera House. It was 10 years and $95 million over budget. It’s great, but it was still a huge stuff up. Image via Transworld