Cognitive biases – Thinking out of the box


As you remember, in previous articles, we have already talked about cognitive biases.

This trilogy of articles begins with the overview and related literature on the systematic errors which our brains make, inviting us to perceive the world through a somewhat distorted lens.

The second text focuses on research with users and the limitations to which participants are unconsciously exposed when participating in sessions and studies. In addition to describing the different biases that influence users, this second article gives a series of tips to minimize their impact when doing research on user experience.

With this last text we want to close a cycle that, as we have summarized, begins with the perception of the world, continues with people as active subjects of research, and ends with us as generators and creators of innovation.

In the five minutes it will take you to read this article, you will find out how innovation processes are not free from shortcuts that we unconsciously create. In addition, we will try to give a vision based on our experience and knowledge to help you develop strategies that push you to overcome and compensate for the biases that you may find in your work contexts. 

Breaking down innovation processes.

Understanding innovation as a methodological process that deepens an idea to generate disruptive output, generates questions that go beyond the solution of the process itself. What has led to the generation of this idea? What resources have been involved? What limitations have had to be overcome? Two different ways of responding arise from these questions. On the one hand, there is the possibility of attending to the specific phases that are carried out from the beginning of the process to the end of it; learn about the problem, define, ideate, prototype and test. Taking this path involves objectively analyzing measurable results, such as testing a prototype or choosing the best idea from a group ideation technique.

Now, If we want to trace the psychological process that led to such a result, it is not so easy to identify phases. It is difficult to answer the questions that are based on abstractions of human thoughts and behaviors, but it’s not impossible.

In this article we will focus on identifying and understanding cognitive limitations that could disrupt our design process.

The study of the literature on cognitive biases allows us to draw parallels with innovation processes. In order to reduce the impact of certain cognitive biases, we will focus on Design thinking. This is a design methodology that can create innovative products and solve problems using both scientific research and intuition.

There are certain biases that impact the generation of innovation when we speak in terms of teamwork and idea creation.

Projection bias:

What it is: Tendency to project the present into the future. This is why people tend to think the future will be similar to the present moment they are living in.

Impact on innovation: Thinking of the future as a set of events similar to current events can cause a block in the generation of new ideas. If you think that everything is going to be the same, why are you going for a change?


Egocentric Empathy Gap:

What it is: Projecting your thoughts and preferences onto other people, believing that the desires and thoughts of others are the same as yours.

Impact on innovation: Believing that all your teammates have the same preferences and value the same characteristics of a product, can create false expectations, especially when it comes to generating ideas with greater value. Variety is fun, right?


Targeting Illusion:

What it is: Overestimating one factor over others, tending to react more strongly to certain stimuli and being able to ignore others.

Impact on innovation: If you think that only one element of the product you imagine is important, your ideas will be homogeneous and not very varied.


Hot/cold gap:

What it is: Your emotional state impacts decision-making, leading you to overvalue or undervalue ideas.

Impact on innovation: Making hot decisions is not a good option, you may regret your choice tomorrow.


The gap between saying and doing:

What it is: Asking users what they want has its risks. Users are not aware of their purchasing behavior, much less make predictions about their future behavior.

Impact on innovation: Surely you remember when Homer, the main character of the Simpsons, designed and created his ideal car. Was he wrong? I don’t think so, he just listened to his most superficial needs.


planning fallacy

What it is: People tend to be overly optimistic when it comes to estimating how long we will need to do something.

Impact on innovation: This optimism can be seen reflected in the planning of a project. It is not that you have little time to finish a task, it is that the planner is being very positive.


Endowment Effect

What it is: A person’s attachment to something they already have directly impacts decision-making. It can cause an aversion to losing something you already have.

Impact on innovation: Fear of getting rid of the products you already have or evolving them. Being afraid means not evolving, staying stagnant while others move forward.


availability bias

What it is: The tendency to overvalue the easiest ideas to develop.

Impact on innovation: Sticking to the easy prevents designing new and groundbreaking ideas. Who doesn’t risk doesn’t win, right?


How can the negative impact of these biases on innovation processes be reduced?

The techniques and tools used in these creation processes can determine the novelty, value and breadth of the ideas generated.

The biases exposed above are summarized in three main themes:

  • The difficulty of being able to see beyond your own preferences.
  • The inability of users to be able to project their behaviors.
  • The fear of testing your products.


Based on our experience in the sector and the literature written on this subject, we have identified these keys that will help reduce the impact.

  • Make use of collaborative methodologies such as Design Thinking.
  • Work in multidisciplinary teams in which each of the members can give a different and specific vision of the product. You will be able to generate new and creative ideas.
  • It generates a space for dialogue where ideas and opinions are discussed to generate narratives and arguments with strong value.
  • Do deep user observation to build a strong understanding of user behaviors and situations before providing solutions. Immerse yourself in the data collected during the investigation in order to become aware of your perspective, preferences and emotional state, not only your own, but also that of your colleagues.
  • Use narrative techniques that help you personify users as figures that have abilities, personalities, and habits. With this you will be able to empathize and see beyond your own experience.
  • It uses qualitative techniques in which users are able to verbalize their thoughts without subjecting them to exhaustive questions. Use usability tests and test your prototypes to find out how your users behave.
  • Use stimuli to put your users in a situation when you want them to imagine situations in the future.


We all know that when speaking in cognitive terms, there is no absolute truth or advice that will solve problems 100%, but it is clear that you can become more aware of them.

We have only exposed a series of biases that can appear in your creative processes and a series of keys to be able to mitigate them. With this article we not only wanted to highlight these limitations, but we also wanted to give you a boost so that you too are able to identify and generate new solutions so that your products are increasingly isolated from these “problems”.



Liedtka, J. (2014) Perspective: Linking Design Thinking with Innovation Outcomes through Cognitive Bias Reduction. The journal of product innovation management, Volume (32) , Pages 925-938.


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