I recently learned of the phenomenon of people getting into someone's car assuming it is their Uber ride. As the driver and totally private citizen sits there, someone grabs the door handle, throws their luggage in the trunk, and climbs in the back seat. Meanwhile, the driver is sitting there in dismay and alarm going, "Who are you and what are you doing in my car?!" And the rogue rider simply replies, "I'm heading to LaGuardia." Only once the wayward passenger realizes their mistake do they sheepishly back out and check the identical-ish car that’s a space or two away. Oops.
This awkward and potentially dangerous occurrence is called Uber Stupor. It’s explained by a Cognitive Bias—Confirmation Bias, in particular. Confirmation Bias is the subconscious tendency to look for evidence that fits your already-established understanding of the world. In your world, a black car with a driver outside, near the address you entered, is assumed to be your Uber ride. And indeed, this may be the case 90% of the time.
Because it's not an efficient use of brain power to weigh each and every decision, we've evolved to make hundreds of decisions as quickly as possible. This process created the mental shortcuts—the Cognitive Biases—that cause something like climbing into a black sedan that isn't, in fact, your Uber. Uber Stupor is the exception to the efficiency of the evolved model—an instance when you are forced to recognize the biases. Here's another example: a stranger walking towards you is smiling, so you smile back and advance—only to realize that the stranger was looking past you to another person. This is where you move your hand upwards as though you were planning to smooth your hair all along, not shake someone’s hand!
Novel thoughts are of the utmost importance when innovating. With Confirmation Bias, the tendency is to go automatically to the existing, the known, the comfortable, the familiar…until you’re stuck living in Pleasantville in a black & white hum that’s simply numbing. So how do you break out the color?
Acknowledge the Beast
The first step is to spot Confirmation Bias when it's happening. Examine your thoughts for patterns and assumptions.
BUSTED! You are now under arrest for having Confirmation Bias. You are sentenced to a term of Assumption Busting.
List all the assumptions you can about your topic. Anything goes. Begin by making a list of everything that is ‘true’ or ‘generally true’ about your topic. Think not only of the physical attributes, but also the experience of the topic from first interaction to the end. Take cereal for example:
Now bust those assumptions! Throw them out or turn them on their head to generate new ideas for cereal:
And on and on you can go. A way to push the exercise even further would be to generate a list of qualities and attributes of another category and force them to fit the category you're working on. Let's try it with Construction, for example.....
And, as I said earlier, on and on you can go. So the next time you find yourself in an Uber Stupor, use it as a chance to shake out the cobwebs and think anew...and get to LaGuardia right on time.
Ed Harrington is CEO and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies to incorporate the voice of the consumer in ideation and concept development. He co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation Approach Drives Your Company Forward."