AI / Machine Learning
May 20, 2019

Availability Heuristic

What is it?

We are all blind — all of us. Even worse? We’re blind to our blindness.

We’re all victims to a wide range of cognitive biases that impair our decision making. But in my experience, the single most impactful cognitive bias that affects our business decisions is the “Availability Heuristic”.

Unfamiliar with the concept? We can reduce it, more or less, to a very simple phrase: “What I see is all there is”.

More formally, it’s this: we tend to think that things that come to mind quickly are the best representations of reality.

We can’t avoid it. It’s hardcoded into our primitive brain, which has to jump to conclusions fast and make decisions to survive.

This is a psychological phenomenon that we all suffer from. It affects our critical thinking and can lead to bad decisions. Understanding it and knowing it’s there are the first steps to avoid falling into this trap.

Some people have a natural tendency to be more influenced by the availability heuristic, but we are ALL affected. It affects many aspects and fields, like business management, economy, health, education, you name it.

What should we do?

When running businesses, developing projects, or working with clients, we usually have to make decisions with very limited information and under time constraints. Compound that with a brain that has a tendency to look for cause-effect relations and negative over positive facts (two other cognitive biases), and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

But we can also take steps to protect ourselves. The more you’re aware of your own internal biases, the better you’ll be able to fight against them and improve your decision-making skills.

Understanding and combating the availability heuristic is one important step to making better decisions. And if this all still sounds a bit confusing, check this picture for reference:

Availability Heuristic in a nutshell

We can’t remove the availability heuristic from our brain — it’s inherent. But we can educate ourselves, understand our own cognitive failings, and consciously work to identify and counteract cognitive bias when it comes up.

And that’s something that will help all of us make better decisions, both in business and in life.