Thanks to a slew of new books and articles that have come out in recent years, many professionals today realize how cognitive biases can distort their ability to make decisions. As an example of the biases faced by product designers (and product owners) is confirmation bias, for instance, which leads people to ignore evidence that contradicts their preconceived notions. Another common cognitive bias that plagues us is anchoring, which causes us to weigh one piece of information too heavily in making decisions at the exclusion of other, and potentially more salient, information.
I noticed a great example of this a few weeks ago when the iPhone 5 was released and I wrote about it on the TLCLabs blog called “Comedy, Cognitive Biases, and the iPhone5”. To give a quick overview – on the Jimmy Kimmel show they went out onto the street and told the people that, in light of the recent release of the iPhone5, they wanted some feedback from people on what they thought of Apple’s new phone. Now, the key to the comedy is that they told people it was the iPhone 5, even though what they were showing people was in fact the iPhone 4s, but every single person reviewed the (fake) iPhone 5 and assigned it attributes such as “thinner,” “lighter,” and “faster,” and this was even for people who OWNED the iPhone 4! As I talked about in the article, people’s cognitive biases were preventing them from making “rational” evaluations of the phone they were asked to look at.
The point is, cognitive biases are everywhere – and while they are part of being human, they do have a negative impact on us being able to make strategic decisions in our life – in product review meetings, in executive off-sites, even in our personal lives. The only medicine is simply being aware of them, and perhaps being able to notice when there is bias in a decision-making or strategy meeting, and attempt to correct for it.
This is all prelude to what I really wanted to talk about. This morning while chatting with Simon over IM, I mentioned a quote that I was reading by Warren Buffet, that said, “Failing conventionally is the route to go; as a group, lemmings may have a rotten image, but no individual lemming has ever received bad press.”
This is a classical example of the Herding Bias – the desire to conform to the behavior and opinions of others – even when we may know that it’s not the right thing to do. The second part of that quote was, “For most CEOs, only one thing is worse than making a huge strategic mistake: being the only person in the industry to make it.”
While chatting with Simon, I immediately thought – ‘what if there was a simple way to teach the most common cognitive biases that we face in our day-to-day professional lives’, especially the ones more common in product or executive strategy meetings. This led me to thinking about a potential game – kind of like Bingo meets Trivial Pursuit but for product designers, entrepreneurs, and executive strategist – something that would be a fun way to teach cognitive biases and hopefully, after playing the game, people could use it to catch biased decisions happening in meetings and hopefully correct for it.
I named it BIAS!™ because I’m just not that clever.
Using the language and methods of Lean Startup Machine - my customer hypothesis is that people are routinely making bad decisions that negatively impact their ability to make good decisions, and that some professionals would be interested in learning more about mitigating the risk of cognitive bias in their decision making. My solution hypothesis would probably be that a game could be a fun, easy to learn, and self-reinforcing way to teach sensitivity to bias to professionals, and teams would be willing to buy such a solution. But I need to test these hypotheses – which means I need to have something to show people.
This is all to say that I started sketching a few hours ago a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – just sketches of the concept – so that I could flesh out the rules of the game, get it in front of some potential customers, and get some early feedback. After sketching the board above, I realized most people would need cards to teach the biases, as a reference – so I sketched a few of these as well.
Here is the sample board I created.
How to play (maybe – this requires some thinking, and a lot of testing)
Initially, BIAS! is a team game, where people divide into 2 teams of 3-5 people. Each team gets a set of cards which describe all the various cognitive biases. (Each game comes with 2 decks of 25, as well as 10 boards). With the game comes a book of scenarios where a problem statement and possible solutions are presented.
The teams take turns reading from the scenario book, where the other team has to decide if their is cognitive bias at play, and which one. If they decide correctly, they can cross off one on their bias board.
The first team to get 5 in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, wins. Every time a team is presented with a scenario and they choose incorrectly, they must drink a shot of tequila (Actually, the team loses a round). If a scenario could possible have 2 biases at play, a team only has to correctly identify 1, but if they happen to identify both, they can cross 2 off their Bias board.
These sketches of the cards inspired by Steven Anderson’s awesome Mental Notes.
Sample Cards Concepts
Game design is hard, so having sketched out the rest of the cards, as well as the first pass at designing the rules of the game, I need to get this in front of some people to see if it solves any problem, they’re interested in it, but especially – whether the game’s rules make sense, teach something, and ultimately, is fun to play. I hope to have initial feedback early next week, and will keep you all posted on using Lean Startup for Game Design (very nerdy game design). If you want to share ideas about game rules, let me know – the entire concept is still rough.
Have a great weekend.