There are a lot of reasons that business don’t do as well as they should on paper. Market forces, of course, bad marketing, poor products the list goes on. But sometimes there is no obvious reason. On paper, everything looks great but things aren’t going gangbusters. At that point you have to look at yourself. And be objective. And possibly hurtful. Are you the reason your business isn’t doing as well as it should?
The real question is, do you have a cognitive blind spot?
A cognitive bias is a ‘pattern of deviation in judgement.’ In layman’s terms it means a bad assumption you don’t even realize you’re making. Mathematician Tanya Khovanova has a great story about how she used to teach certain cryptography principles specifically one-way functions by telling a story about two people encrypting a message using the phone book. Alice would take every letter she wanted to encrypt and use the phone number of someone whose last name began with that letter. This meant Bob had to look for each phone number in the entire book to match it with a letter. The lesson was supposed to be how de-crypting became much more difficult the larger the source of possible numbers became, but one of her students brought her up short when they stated that if they needed to crack such a code they would simply call every phone number and ask the person their last name.
Dr. Khovanova, in other words, was the victim of a cognitive blind spot. She admitted she herself was shy, and would never call up total strangers and ask them their names. Since she wouldn’t do it, she subconsciously discounted it as a possibility despite the fact that it was a very real one.
So ask yourself: What are your cognitive blind spots? What are you assuming without even realizing it that may be costing you customers or money?
The horrible part of cognitive blind spots is that you don’t even know you have them until they are pointed out. You can identify them, somewhat, by being mercilessly objective about yourself and questioning all of your decisions. Forcing yourself to justify your own assumptions works if you know they are assumptions but often these biases are subconscious in nature and thus impervious to even the most stringent self-examination.
The best technique is to what Dr. Khovanova did without realizing it: Open your ideas up to a team of talented, smart people, and urge them to pressure-test them. It’s going to take someone with a completely different set of cognitive blind spots to spot yours, and vice versa. Your team should be advised to be completely objective, and you should endeavour to give them as little of your own thoughts as possible present your strategies and theories without comment and let them determine if they can see problems or solutions you’re simply blind to.
It can be difficult to admit that you are so easily fooled or blinded, but the fact is we’re all guilty of this. Once you realize you probably have some blind spots, though, the only mistake left to make is to ignore the fact and assume everything is going to work out fine. That final assumption is probably the last one made at a lot of failed businesses.
Ross Dempsey is the Head of Marketing for Glasgoweb, offering web design services in Glasgow along with PPC and SEO. Ross’ particular expertise lies in SEO, PPC, Social Media and Analytics.