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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Wirtschaft | NEWSLETTER zum Wissens- und Technologietransfer | Archiv | WTT Newsletter Juli 2019 | 16 key cognitive biases that impact creativity and the innovation process

16 key cognitive biases that impact creativity and the innovation process

The following presentation on cognitive biases has been provided by the Board of Innovation.

Below is a list of 16 cognitive biases that have a strong impact on creativity and the innovation process. They can originate from personal biases, group dynamics, politics, and many more. For a strong and successful team of innovative thinkers, may it be in the field of applied researches or within startup teams, one should seek to minimise the effects of these biases. This ensures that innovative outputs are not influenced from immediate emotional effects and subjective interference that may result thereby.

A printable PDF poster has been provided by the Board of Innovation. You can download it here.


Confirmation bias.

  • We believe what we want to believe by favouring information that confirms preexisting beliefs or preconceptions. This results in looking for creative solutions that confirm our beliefs rather than challenge them. Tread carefully when you “disagree with” or discard evidence brought forward by the team!

Projection bias.

  • From behavioural economics, over-predicting future tastes or preferences will match current tastes or preferences. This bias has particular influence as new innovations are conceived in the now and are projected into the future when they enter markets resulting in over value-appreciation of consumer preferences.

Authority bias.

  • Favouring authority figure opinions ideas
    within innovation teams. This means that
    innovative ideas coming from senior team
    members trump or better all others, even if
    other concepts, ideas and inputs could be
    more creative and relevant to problem solving.
    Take this into account, especially when you
    yourself speak up. Whatever you as a sponsor,
    say will carry a lot more weight than any other

Loss aversion bias.

  • Once a decision has been made, sticking to it
    rather than taking risks due to the fear of losing
    what you gained in starting something and
    wishing to see it finished. We also attach more
    value to something once we have made an
    emotional investment in it. As a consequence
    of effort, time and energy put into creative
    thinking, team members can become
    emotionally attached to their outcomes. To
    remedy this, the 11th commandment: “thou
    shalt not fall in love with thy solutions”.

False causality.

  • Citing sequential events as evidence the first
    caused the second. This can occur within the
    Design Thinking empathise phase where you
    are intentionally seeking confirmation of
    causality between what people say vs. what
    they do, leading to taking the wrong problems
    or needs forward to solve. Question yourself:
    can you really prove causality? Or only the
    correlation. Or only sequence?

Action bias.

  • When faced with ambiguity favouring doing
    something or anything without any prior
    analysis even if it is counterproductive. Team
    members can feel that they need to take action
    regardless of whether it is a good idea or not.
    This can be an issue when under time pressure
    in strict design sprint workshops for example.
    When a team walks into this, question whether
    their actions have clear reasoning (why?)
    behind them and are based on evidence of
    their chosen direction. On the other opposite
    end of the spectrum avoid “analysis paralysis”
    by encouraging pragmatic decision making
    based on partial evidence.

Self serving bias.

  • Favouring decisions that enhance self-esteem.
    This results in attributing positive events to
    oneself and conversely negative events to
    others. Within innovation workshops this can
    mean that decisions made can be loaded with
    personal agenda’s rather than customer and
    business logic for the company. Encourage
    team members (or yourself) to look at the idea
    from different points of view (other
    departments, stakeholders, clients, etc.) to truly
    gauge its merit objectively.

Framing bias.

  • Being influenced by the way in which
    information is presented rather than the
    information itself. We see this one all the time
    particularly when developing prototypes for
    pitching as well as in presenting polished
    slides. People will avoid risk if presented well
    and seek risk if presented poorly meaning that
    decision making logic can easily be skewed.
    When judging a team’s pitch: are you judging
    the content? Or the delivery?

Conformity bias.

  • Choices of mass populations influence how we
    think, even if against independent personal
    judgements. This can result in poor decision
    making and lead to groupthink which is
    particularly detrimental to creativity as outside
    opinions can become suppressed leading to
    self- censorship and loss of independent
    thought. When you spot group think within a
    team, try to gain everyone’s personal
    perspective separately first (either through a
    silent, written brainstorm or through one on
    one conversations) before discussing the topic
    in a team setting.

Strategic misrepresentation.

  • Knowingly understating the costs and
    overstating the benefits. When developing
    innovation concepts, ballpark figures and
    business model prototypes, teams are prone to
    understating the true costs and overstating the
    likely benefits in order to get a project
    approved (which happens all the time in large
    governmental contracting). Over-optimism is
    then spotted and challenged by managers
    assessing how truly innovative team outcomes
    are. Challenge your teams: are they showing
    the full image of costs? What about FTE’s and
    other time investments?

Bandwagon bias.

  • Favouring ideas already adopted by others.
    This is especially influential when linked to
    authority bias. Bandwagon effect is a common
    occurrence we see in workshops. The rate and
    speed at which ideas are adopted by others
    (through discussion, ...) can significantly
    influence the likelihood of those ideas and
    concepts being selected by the group and
    taken forward. Do you like a teams idea just
    because you’ve seen it done before? Are you
    favouring ideas just because other banks do
    them too?

Ambiguity bias.

  • Favouring options where the outcome is more
    knowable over those which it is not. This bias
    has dire impacts innovation outcomes because
    the process is fundamentally risky and
    unknown process. If team members
    subconsciously favour known known’s, you will
    most likely follow know knowns and previously
    trodden paths. When disliking an idea or way
    of working: think for a second. Is it based on
    merit or just because it’s new and unknown?

Pro-innovation bias.

  • New innovations should be adopted by all
    members society (regardless of the wider
    needs) and are pushed-out and accepted
    regardless. Novelty and ‘newness’ are seen as
    inherently good, regardless of potential
    negative impacts (inequality, elitism,
    environmental damage etc.) resulting in new
    ideas and concepts generated being judged
    through somewhat rose tinted spectacles.
    Question the idea: are we judging it too much
    on its level of novelty or “sexyness”? Without
    falling into status quo bias, are we taking all
    possible (also negative) impacts into account?

Anchoring bias.

  • Being influenced by information that is already
    known or that is first shown. This causes preloaded
    and determined tunnel vision and
    influences final decision making. We
    deliberately manipulate team members’ minds
    by ‘pre-loading’ them one of our warm-up
    exercises to demonstrate this bias at play. The
    impact is highly-significant on creative thinking
    and outcomes.

Status-quo bias.

  • Favouring the current situation or status quo
    and maintaining it due to loss aversion (or fear
    of losing it) and do nothing as a result. This is a
    subtle bias on an emotional level that makes us
    reduce risk and prefer what is familiar or “the
    way we do things round here” as it is known. It
    has severe consequences when seeking out
    new ways to creatively solve needs and
    problems. When you dislike an idea, ask
    yourself: “Is this just me sticking to what I

Feature positive effect.

  • (close links with optimism bias): due to limited
    time or resources, people tend to focus on the
    ‘good’ benefits whilst ignoring negative effects
    even when the negative effects are significant.
    This is influential when deep-diving into
    specific new feature sets for new concepts
    (especially when coupled with loss aversion
    bias), because it means that teams will
    overlook missing information especially when
    it is outside expertise resulting in taking ideas
    forward with critical flaws.