Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fierce proponent of innovation based on insight. How else would you be able to frame your innovation and understand whether what you are proposing is even relevant, unless you understand the competitive landscape in which you operate? The purpose of this post is not to question whether you need insights or delve into how innovation works or how to fuel it, but instead, assuming you have a smooth running
innovation machine – and you work from solid consumer insight – how come things can still go wrong?

Interestingly, cognitive science can help us here, specifically the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who three decades ago explored the benefits and risks of heuristics, or shortcuts in thinking. Heuristics help to explain the time we get it wrong even when having been presented with all the reasonable information and insight, which presumably should have led us to make the right conclusions rather than the wrong ones. There are three errors, which are common when this happens:

Anchoring error – This is when you seize on the first bit of information and basically make your mind up before you have heard the whole argument, even when some subsequent findings may be contradicting what you seized on initially.

Availability error – This is when some surprising findings emerge that remind you of a dramatic past case and you mistakenly apply mental models or conclusions from that case to new findings and rationalise them in the same way, again leading you to potentially make the wrong conclusion.

Attribution error – Despite getting a ton of insight, it can sometimes be very tempting to group these findings into stereotypes and grossly generalise, to see information as ways of confirming what you already know, rather than seeing the little inklings that your stereotypes aren’t correct. Here again the information may be correct, but your use of it incorrect.

These mistakes are all very human and can easily happen, but research in other fields are showing just how dangerous these mistakes can be. In the engineering field these errors can lead to countless hours spent hunting for a technical problem in the wrong place, in the medical fields the very same mistakes can lead to gross misdiagnosis and potential patient deaths and of course in design, to redundant products and solutions. To err is human, but to err without learning from your mistakes is plain stupid.

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