Cognitive Biases are the collection of mental shortcuts that have evolved over time, shaping our view of the world. They were once a useful tool to keep us safe from threats (like hungry tigers) and aid in quick decision-making—both important qualities when the highest goal was survival. Now, however, these built-in processes make innovation difficult.

However, by thinking deliberately about them, knowing what they are, and recognizing when they happen, we are able to flip them for more productive and innovative thinking—and a much more romantic Valentine’s Day. Consider these Biases:


Framing is the mental picture we have of our world, and how we perceive and communicate about reality. For many, Valentine's Day is a gift-giving occasion. But what if you move beyond the idea of making a purchase? Rather than thinking, “What should I get my partner for Valentine’s Day?” change your Frame and see what that might yield:

  • What should I do for my partner?
  • Where can we go together?
  • What could we experience together?
  • How can I... make her laugh?
  • How do I... surprise him?

Negativity Bias

Subconciously, we give preference to negativity. This tendency predisposes us to be critical, as well as change- and risk-averse. So if Negativity Bias starts to affect the idea from the Framing example above, "How can I make her laugh?" might turn into:

  • "Maybe she'll think I'm making fun of her."
  • "I won't be romantic enough."
  • "I'm not very funny anyway, the joke won't work, it'll ruin the whole day, week, month and we'll probably just break up."

Much like Lady MacBeth's damn spot, it's almost impossible to get rid of the stain of negativity. So to overcome it, use negativity against itself by giving those thoughts the Forness® thinking treatment. Start by writing down what's good about your idea—and in fact, there's a lot to be said for the benefits of laughter on a relationship—by writing what you're "For." Then think about how to strengthen the idea—what you "Wish For"—and finally, leverage those negative thoughts to generate some fun ideas. 

What’s Good About The Idea - What You're "For"

Ways to Strengthen The Idea - What You "Wish For"

Laughter is good for you

I wish to bring us closer together all the time, not just on Valentine’s Day.

Laughter can be as deep or intimate as any emotion.


I love how she looks when she laughs.


I really want her to be happy.


For example, the fear of splitting up becomes, "I wish to bring us closer all the time, not just on Valentine's Day." This leads to the ideas:

  • I buy 12 splits of champagne, and 12 cards, one of each to be opened the 14th of every month.
  • I'll get a cashmere blanket to promote cuddling.
  • We'll take a DNA test so we can imagine what our children would be like (Ok, stop right there—you’re having a negative reaction to this idea, aren’t you? So, try and flip it!)

Status Quo Bias

Victims of this bias do what they’ve been doing because that’s what they’ve always done. For Valentine's Day, this might look like "I got him roses last year, they seemed to do the job, so rinse and repeat for this year."

OK, I’m not going to slam sentimentality and tradition—and if you’ve been flying to Paris every Valentine’s Day for 24 years I’m not saying this year surprise her with a weekend in Topeka. But if you find yourself on auto pilot with roses, candy and dinner…maybe it’s time to change it up a bit. Try a DREAM™ exercise—what can you Delete, Reduce, Enhance, Add and Maintain to shake up your Valentine's Day routine?

Conformity Bias


This bias has people doing what everyone else is doing because, well, everyone else is doing it. First of all, following the crowd is lazy, boring and downright un-American. And it's the antitheses of innovative thinking. So to create your non-conforming Valentine's Day, try a little Assumption Busting. Start by making a list of your assumptions about the day. It might look like this:

  • Everything is red and pink.
  • It features lots of hearts.
  • It involves candy, flowers and dinner.

When you break those assumptions, you get a much more unique celebration:

  • Make blue the signature color.
  • Get chocolates in a box shaped like a pancreas instead of a heart (hey, she'll remember it, right?).
  • Rather than giving a bouquet, plant flowers in the garden.
  • Instead of dinner, have a sumptuous Valentine's Day breakfast.

Availability Bias and Confirmation Bias

Availability Bias leads us to make choices based on what we can easily remember—missing helpful information that would lead to better decisions in the process. This thought process might sound like, "Well, she liked the flowers I got her for her birthday last month.....I'll get some again this time."

Availability Bias goes hand-in-hand with Confirmation Biaswhich is our tendency to seek out evidence that supports decisions we've already embraced. This might look like buying flowers, then thinking,  "Well, she likes flowers, so that's perfect!"

To fight these biases, do a Mind Map. Start with one idea in the center, and sketch out wherever your mind takes you from there. 


Now look at the list, and generate ideas for a Valentine's Day gift:

  • Flowers—Exotic plants that will last all year.
  • Precious—Movie passes.
  • Metal—Concert tickets.
  • Sparkle—A weekly cleaning service.
  • Candy—Favorite candies from childhood.
  • Dinner—Attend a cooking class together.

Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge makes it extremely difficult for someone with expertise in a topic to think about that topic from the perspective of someone without as much knowledge. Put simply, it's really hard to unlearn what you have learned.

If you're in a new relationship, there's still much to discover about each other. When you've been together for awhile, things naturally fall into a routine and it can be easy to see your partner in the same old ways. Break through the Curse of Knowledge by playing the Newlywed Game. You may find you know each other inside and out, but I'll bet you'll discover something new. Use those answers to come up with a gift or experience to celebrate your relationship—whether it's new or old.


Confabulation is the deeply ingrained tendency to make decisions based on emotion, rather than evidence—and then to rationalize justification for those decisions. 

Your recollection of your meeting, romancing and shared experiences will differ from your partner's. It’s like the song “I Remember It Well” where two aging wooers have very different recollections of their first date. Use this as inspiration! 

  • Take a stroll together down memory lane. Have a wonderful chat and remember to give your memories Forness® thinking treatment. My family will sometimes sit together and recall certain shared events only to find multiple differences in our recollections—this can lead to some arguments and chances are you’ll never come to full agreement. Such is the entrenchment of our thoughts, memories and rationales. But if you focus on the fact that you all remember that wonderful week at the beach, that it was overall a great and memorable (mis-memorable?) time, it’s all good.
  • Use the moment not only to draw closer, but to see an idea or two to celebrate your love: Seek out the locations of your first dates. Get together with a couple you double-dated with. Recreate a memorable date or activity, and give it another whirl.

I hope this gives you some ideas for a more innovative celebration. Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day!

Ed Harrington

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."