What is Conformity Bias?

Conformity Bias is the force behind our desire to fit in. We will almost always push for a homogenous consensus within a group to create harmony. This originates from hunter and gatherer days when working as a team was necessary for survival. Departing from the group meant less food, protection, and housing (maybe “caving” better suits the hunter and gatherer times). Going with the flow meant reproductive success, causing the Conformity Bias instinct to pass on through the generations.

Example: The classic Asch Conformity Experiment demonstrates this Bias the best. During a simple task that had subjects determine which line matched another line’s height, A, B, or C, the results were not what you might expect.

asch lines.png

A test subject was placed in a room with confederates (people who were a part of the experiment, but the subject thought they were other participants) as they answered their line answers out loud. Each confederate said the same incorrect answer until it was the subject’s turn. Instead of stating the obvious and correct answer, the subject conformed to the group and answered incorrectly. Even when the correct answer is known, the power of the Conformity Bias will have us stating the incorrect answer to fit in. Watch the experiment unfold below. 


Download our Cognitive Bias cheat sheet for your one-page guide to the eight Cognitive Biases that block innovation efforts.

Download the Cognitive  Bias Cheat-Sheet

Overcoming Conformity Bias During Innovation

One way we like to beat Conformity Bias at Ideas To Go is through the Get Fired, Get Hired exercise. Here’s how it works.

As you are generating new ideas, come up with one that, if you proposed it to your boss, might get you fired. This is your Get Fired idea. It can be absolutely terrible, impossible, far too expensive....even illegal. Once you have written the idea down, swap your idea with someone else. Now it’s time to Get Hired. Use the Get Fired idea as fodder and as a creative spark for new and great ideas. Here are some ways to do that:

  1. Identify a captivating phrase in the idea and constructively build upon it.
  2. Perform a Forness® response on the idea to utilize what you like in the idea.
  3. Do the opposite of the Get Fired idea.
  4. Create a mind map centered around the Get Fired concept and use that to help you spawn new ideas.
  5. Pick an aspect of the Get Fired idea and do less (or more) of it.

Completing this exercise allows you to go against the Conformity Bias by stating an idea that nobody would agree with, then using that to give rise to your own original ideas.

For a complete reference to the Cognitive Biases that interfere with innovation, read Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral InnovationTMApproach Drives Your Company Forward.

What Cognitive Bias Are You?

Take the eight-question quiz to uncover the Cognitive Bias most affecting your ability to innovate. Don't worry, we also provide you with ways to battle each Bias. 

Tyler Thompson

Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.