Cognitive Bias in Business

The Many Ways Thinking Can Go Wrong

Our brains are incredible creations. They run on about as much energy as the lightbulb in your fridge, yet it’s responsible for making sense out of millions of details all day, every day.

Things go well so often that it can be difficult to remember how wrong your brain can be more often than you might like to admit. This is why I love optical illusions & magic shows so much; they’re a friendly reminder that there are definite limitations to your cognitive abilities.

If you ignore that point in business, however, the results can be disastrous. Think about it: you could have the most amazing tech in the world, but it’s the people who are the most important part of your business. Understanding where things can go wrong is infinitely valuable, so here’s a short list of my favorite cognitive biases to be aware of.

Confirmation Bias

We tend to remember, believe, or notice things that reinforce the things we already think about the world. This means we will ignore anything that challenges those beliefs.

In the business world this creeps up in beliefs about the the right strategies to marketing, employee retention, customer acquisition, and on down the list it goes.

Backfire Effect

This pairs nicely with Confirmation Bias. It’s what happens when you’re presented with information that completely disproves something you believe so you double down on your convictions.

You can show someone the right way to do something, but they’ll often dig in even deeper on the way they’ve been doing things.

False Attribution

“80% of all facts on the internet are made up on the spot.” ~Abraham Lincoln

This happens when someone wants an idea to appear more legitimate than it is, so they attribute it to someone trustworthy.

Correlation Is Not Causation

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc: “After the fact, therefore because of the fact.” This is the mistake of thinking that one thing happens before another, that the first thing causes the second. Just because two things are related, doesn’t mean they’re causal factors.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

Also known as the Gambler’s Fallacy because you’ve lost too much money to walk away, and you should stay in order to win it all back. “We’ve already come this far, would be a shame to stop now.”

Cherry Picking

Think of this as Confirmation Bias on steroids. This is ignoring thousands of scientific reports and believing a single experiment that suggests the contrary.


We’re all victims of poor judgement, specious reasoning, and illogical choices at times. The trick is to identify it as quickly as possible, and take the appropriate steps to get you back on track.

This can be difficult to identify on your own, so it’s important to get outside viewpoints on all areas of your business.

My True Superpower

I’m a professional mind reader, but that’s not my true superpower; it’s paying attention.

In high school my debate teacher asked us to try a simple experiment: think of something boring for 2 minutes. We picked a door knob. He started the timer and within 4 seconds it seemed like my mind had pinged from one thing to the next so fast I wasn’t thinking of anything even remotely resembling a door knob.

“Monkey mind,” he said when I asked him what the hell happened.

I’d wager you have a serious case of monkey mind, too.

Did You Drink the Kool-Aid?

See, there’s there’s cult of multitasking. People think they’re good at doing several things at the same time, but the research doesn’t back it up. It reminds me of a quote my sweetie shared with me when she said when she was going to train for a triathlon:

Why be good at one thing when you can be shitty at three?

She gets it.

Multitasking is a myth. You can’t do it. You think you can, buuuuuuut you’re actually awful at it. Not only are you awful at multitasking, it means you’re substantially worse at the two (or more) things you’re trying to do.

I say “trying to do” because you’re half assing two things instead of whole-assing one thing, as Ron Swanson says.

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3 Negative Results

1. Say Bye to Your Mental Reserves
You’re not actually doing two things at the same time. Instead, you’re rapidly switching from one task to the other. Every time you go from one to the other and back again, you’re wasting precious mental resources that are focused on the task of switching and not on executing.

This is a lot of energy expended with no tangible benefit.

2. More Time Wasted Equals Less Time Available
Since you’re spending all the time switching back and forth, you’re spending less time on the task at hand. This means that the task time you would normally spend on a single task is spread over more real clock time.

This is the complete opposite of efficient. Plus, if you’re looking for that “flow state” feeling where you’re in the groove, that takes (at minimum) about 20 minutes to get into. How long are you on task before you switch over to check text messages? I’d say every .5 minutes? Not nearly long enough to bring out your best work.

3. Your Thinking Is Bad, And You Should Feel Bad
Since you’re doing a lot of unnecessary work when you’re constantly switching back and forth, you fool yourself into thinking you’ve done more work than you have. Your brain says, “I’m super tired from all this work, and since feeling tired is the result of hard work I must have worked really hard on these two things! Yay me!”

And it’s lying to you! Your brain is conveniently editing out all the time between those tasks spent daydreaming, acclimating to the other task, or whatever other thing it’s doing that’s not productive focus.

OK Mr. Doom & Gloom. What Do I Do About It?

The good news is, like most human things, distractions exist on a spectrum. They range from barely there to BIG FRACKING DEAL.

At the BFD end of the spectrum is texting someone while you drive. Not good. Don’t do it.

At the Not A BFD end of the spectrum is just the awareness that you might get a text from someone. You’re not actually acting on anything, but that thought is occupying space in your brain meats.

Just the fact you could do something is on the slippery slope of eating away at your attention.

This is why so many people swear by browser plugins that limit the websites you can visit during the time you want to be productive. How often have you gotten tired of Facebook, close the tab, and then immediately open a new tab to check Facebook?

Install any number of browser extensions to break that automatic behavior loop to improve your focus.

Turn off your notifications on your cell phone when you want to be productive. And I’m not just talking about putting it on stun. Really, truly, turn off all forms of notifications. Or, better yet, put it on silent and then put it in another room.

Constraint vs Restraint

The more you engineer your environment to not even tempt you in the first place, the less you’re likely to engage in the tempting behavior.

This is the nature of constraint.

If, however, you’re relying solely on your willpower, you’re relying on restraint, and that sucks. Not doing the thing never feels as good as doing the thing.

There are only so many cupcakes I can say no to before my restraint wears off, and I give in. Compare that to not even having cupcakes around in the first place. First is restraint. No good. Second is an environmental constraint. More good.

Practice Makes Permanent

The more you practice focusing on one thing at a time, the better you get at controlling your attention. This is the way to tame the monkey mind.

One of the greatest compliments I got was a from a friend of mine who I met at a science conference. He told me a couple years afterward that he was impressed with how I was able to completely focus on our conversation instead of constantly looking over his shoulder for “more important” people to talk with. (You know the deal; the networker who is constantly on the prowl for the higher status person to glom onto.)

The fact that I was completely 100% attentive & present impressed him so much he booked me to speak at a science conference he organizes in California.


Not only will practicing your focus improve the quality of work at your job, but it will improve the quality of relationships you can build when people feel like you’re actually totally present.

You can’t do it. Stop trying. Start using your superpower of sustained, singular focus instead!

Need help? I can help you with that. Let’s chat!

Curiosity Killed the Cat

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]And it will kill you, too.

Millions of people are living life thinking about “what if?” They’re wondering how things could have been different.

They’re curious about that path they never took.

They’re living lives of quiet regret.

This is what happens when you only stay curious about something.

Too many people never exercise their curiosity. They never take action to find out how things could be different; they only think about it. They choose to daydream about an imaginary future where things are better. This serves to make them more discontent & unhappy with where they are now.

Even if where they are is pretty damn good.

Few people know there’s a second part to that saying:

And satisfaction brought him back.

Find a way to test things out. Curious about turning your hobby into your full-time job? Start a side hustle. Thinking about quitting your 9-5 to travel the world? Go on a mini vacation and test drive your theory.

Human beings are remarkably bad at predicting what will make them happy. Lottery winners are usually more miserable 6 months later than they were before buying that ticket.

Putting your curiosity into action in micro-doses will help you understand whether or not that imaginary future will actually make you happy, or not.

You’ll have the satisfaction of first-hand experience to make better & better choices.

What is it you’ve been curious about, but always thought it was beyond your reach?

What are you curious about that’s slowly killing you?

Don’t let it take control. Use your curiosity to guide your choices so you can move forward with the satisfaction of knowing for sure what will make you happy.

Seem impossible? Let me help you.[/vc_column_text][us_btn text=”Start Our Conversation” link=”|||”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

What’s Your Boat?

A monk decided to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He took his boat out to the middle of the lake, moored it there, closed his eyes, and began meditating.

After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly felt the bump of another boat colliding with his own.

With his eyes still closed, he felt his anger rising, and by the time he opened his eyes, he was ready to scream at the boatman who had so carelessly disturbed his meditation.

But when he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find that it was an empty boat that had struck his own. It had probably gotten untethered and floated to the middle of the lake.

At that moment, the monk had a great realization. He understood that the anger was within him; it merely needed the bump of an external object to provoke it out of him. From then on, whenever he came across someone who irritated him or provoked him to anger, he would remind himself that the other person was merely an empty boat; the anger was within him.

So, what’s your boat?

We like to think other people make us angry, and it seems perfectly reasonable to be angry when someone is specifically trying to make you feel that way.

Then you go one step farther and justify poor behavior “because I’m angry.” Not once have I ever acted out of anger and good come of it. 

The next time you feel yourself getting angry, ask yourself why that is, and what you hope to accomplish with the anger. Chances are there’s a better way to get the outcome you want from the situation.

Eventually, you’ll be able to see “empty boats” floating towards you, and you’ll kindly decline their invitation to crash your day.

Designers Are Mind Readers
(And So Are You)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In order to create something that “just works” designers have to be mind readers. They have to get inside the heads of their intended user, and create something that feels natural & intuitive to use. This doesn’t happen on accident, and it can be a very difficult process to perfect.

The interesting thing is, you’re a designer too; you just don’t know it yet.

What Is Design?

At its core, design is simply the process of making a series of choices. Imagine you’re designing a cell phone.

“Do we use steel or aluminum for the body? Since steel will interfere with wifi signals, we’ll use aluminum. Now what about the processor?”

On down the line of questions you go, until eventually you’ve created a product that’s incredibly valuable.

Note: The end product is only as good as the quality of questions asked to create it.

The Same Goes For Your Life

Our lives are the results of the choices we make, so every decision contributes to the overall value of your life. Few people take ownership of the process, (or even understand the importance of their choices,) and wonder why their life isn’t how they think it should be.

Product of Your Environment

Just like the design of a cellphone is affected by the natural principles of physics, the design of your life is affected by the natural principles of psychology.

The less you know about how your mind works, the more challenges you’re going to have making choices that get you the results you want.

This is where the mind reading comes in handy.

Sometimes the most difficult mind to get into is your own. You constantly wonder why you find yourself in the same situations even though you think you’re making better choices. Instead, you’re just making different iterations of the same mistakes.

If you’re having trouble making lasting changes, it’s not your fault. We’re not taught how to think like designers & mind readers in school; we’re taught how to follow directions.

Fortunately for you, I’m both. I’m a designer by education & experience, and a mind reader for the past 20 years.

If you want to break out of the cycle you’ve been stuck in for years, I want to help you! Let’s chat. Let me know what you want to achieve, and we can develop a game-plan that’s specific to you. Let’s design something together![/vc_column_text][us_btn text=”Get In Touch” link=”|||”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

10 Body Language Tips


So-called “Body Language Experts” are especially common around election time. News programs love having them on to dissect every nuance of the politician’s delivery.

Too bad it’s almost all crap.

As you can see here, he touched his nose which means he most likely had eggs for breakfast, which means he’s probably going to endorse military action against the penguins in Antarctica.

That’s an exaggeration, but you get the point. There’s no way that a momentary gesture, by itself, is going to tell you anything about their intentions, what they had for breakfast, or anything like that.

I feel like most people who write about body language make too many leaps of logic, and wind up in pseudoscience territory right alongside NLP.

Truth is, humans are already pretty good at understanding the nonverbal part of the communication equation, which is why texting is so frustrating. Texting limits the channel to only the words at the expense of being able to include tone, volume, eye contact, etc.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to be an even better communicator by making some small tweaks to your in-person conversations.

1. Control Your Hands

In high school debate class my instructor told us, “Beware of using too many two handed gestures.” His point was to use gestures to intentionally underscore your message. If you use a single gesture too much, it becomes distracting as people start to wonder why you’re awkwardly holding your hands like that.

An extension of that is be mindful of how energetically you’re “talking with your hands.” I can’t tell you how many times someone gets excited and starts flailing their arms at a networking event only to backhand someone standing behind them. Suddenly the conversation is now focused on apologizing to the new person; not connecting with the potential business partner.

You can still show enthusiasm and excitement, just be sure to rein it in when you’re in a crowded party.

vma flail

2. Be Open

You might be an introvert who is more comfortable at home by yourself with a book, and now you’re stuck talking with actual human beings. Ugh.

In an effort to protect your sanity, you fold your arms because it “just feels right.” Problem is, that feeling is coming at the expense of being able to connect with the person you’re talking with.

It’s literally the opposite of “welcoming someone with open arms.” You’re telling the other person their presence is unwanted, and you’re not comfortable with their being near you.

Put your arms down.

not sure

3. Be Congruent

As a mentalist & magician, my job involves lying to people, so I know what to look for in others.

The tell-tale signal is not too little or too much eye contact (as most people believe), but inconsistent behavior that is out of alignment with the message as a whole.

It’s like someone saying, “I love you!” with the right voice inflection, but their fists are clenched. Or, nervous fidgeting when they’re supposed to be relaxed.

Whenever it’s very important to communicate an idea, make sure everything you’re doing supports that message. Any one piece out of alignment will undermine your effectiveness.

HBO angry fine unconditional love

4. Lead With Your Heart

This goes along with not folding your arms. If you want someone to feel like they can trust you, lead with your heart. Open your arms, and put your chest forward.

This is an incredibly vulnerable position, and it’s incredibly disarming for the other person to see you in it. My friend David Hira told me this secret, and he’s one of the most likeable speakers I’ve ever seen work. This is one of his most valuable tools; use it wisely.

indiana jones and the temple of doom

5. Don’t Slouch

Bring to mind the textbook teenager who is completely bored & would rather be anywhere else but here. How is he sitting?

Chances are the person in your mind is practically melting out of his seat.

Slouching is basically your body’s way of saying, “I’m bored out of my mind, and I’d rather be anywhere else.”

EditingAndLayout bored alan rickman boring galaxy quest

6. Check In With Your Eyes

Researchers have determined that 3.2 seconds of eye contact are ideal. Anything less tells the other person you’re not at all interested, and your attention is somewhere else.

Looking into someone’s eyes as you talk with them allows you to check in with them, and them with you.

On the other hand, you don’t want too much.

Anything longer than 3.2 seconds is taken as aggression.

Think about someone about to get into a bar fight. He’s going to stare straight into the eyes of his target in an attempt to intimidate them.

Excessive eye contact is well understood in the animal kingdom as a threatening gesture. Don’t use it in the boardroom on accident.

America's Got Talent love wow omg feels

7. Be Still

There’s something I like to call the “signal to noise ratio.” The message you’re trying to send is the signal, and anything you do that doesn’t support that message is noise.

Fidgeting is a prime example of pure noise.

Just like too many double handed gestures can be distracting, digging at your cuticles, twisting your hair, or whatever nervous habit you have will actively undermine your ability to connect with other people.

Fidgeting tells the other person you’re anxious, you’re uncomfortable, or that you don’t trust them.

None of those scenarios play out well for you.

art movies black and white smoke smoking

8. Fix Your Thinking Face

You’re deeply engaged with what someone is telling you, and you’re actively onboard with them.

The problem is your thinking face.

Too often when you’re judging the merits of a decision, your face says you’re judging the person.

Your eyes narrow, your forehead wrinkles up, the corners of your mouth turn down as you play mental chess with the proposal.

You want to be known as someone who is thoughtful, not overly critical. Relax the scowl!

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9. Shake That Sweet Spot

Just like there’s a happy medium with eye contact, so too is there a sweet spot for handshakes.

Too weak and you’re seen as lacking confidence.

Too strong and you’re seen as overly aggressive.

It’s an important moment. Don’t rush it, and it’s important to do it right.

mrw someone meeting handshake interests

10. Know Your Place

Are you, or someone you love a close talker? Do they not understand the concept of the personal bubble? Can you count the number of pores on their nose as they release day-old coffee breath straight into your face?

Close talking is a serious issue, so see a professional communication coach today!

Different cultures have different tolerances for personal space, so make sure you’re not erring on the side of too little. I can’t remember a single time I was talking with someone who stood too close and thought, “Boy, I wish they’d be even closer!”

Sure, it might be a crowded networking event and we have to be packed together, but if there’s space to spread out, do it.


All Together Now

As the saying goes, “Knowing you have a problem is the first step towards fixing it.” Sometimes we don’t even know we’re making these blunders until it’s too late.

Ask your friends to tell you honestly if they’ve noticed you doing any of these, and you might be surprised at how many they check off.

Or, if you’d like 1-on-1 coaching, having a professional communicator evaluate your skills is a phenomenal way to jumpstart your progress. Let’s talk!

Recognition & Recall

If I asked you to look at a list of words, wait 5 minutes, and then write down as many as you could remember this would be an exercise in recall.

If I asked you to look at a list of words, wait 5 minutes, and then tell me which ones look familiar on a different list it would be an exercise in recognition.

Both processes use different parts of the brain, and recognition is much easier because it leverages context to evaluate information. This is why you know you’ve met someone before (visual/facial recognition) but can’t remember their name ( abstract recall).

If their name were written down, though, you might be able to figure out which one “feels right.” That’s why most memory tricks that help you remember names suggest you create a compelling visual metaphor representing their name.

That way, the recognition of their face cues the association of the mental image that you can use to decipher their name.

Make Better Decisions

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Charles R. Swindoll

Whether it’s figuring out whether to take the job offer or not, who to date, where to go to school, or what to have for dinner, every day is full of choices.

The quality of our lives are the results of the choices that we make. We actively design our life with every decision we make.

No pressure, right?

We often have very little information on what the outcome of our choice will be, and we can have a difficult time weighing the pros & cons of a particular choice we’re faced with. That’s why it can be easy to get “paralysis by analysis.”

That’s why I want to share 3 psychological elements that influence the choices that you make, and once you understand them it will help you make better choices more quickly.

“One should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths.” Lord Takandobu

Element 1: Loss Aversion

As much as we’d like to believe that we’re noble creatures driven by logic & reason, we’re actually weak apes who are terrified of having things taken away from us.

When we think about the future, we’re much more concerned with what we could lose instead of being excited about what we could gain. Our motivations are more about what we can keep than what we can get.

This is why it’s easy to get stuck in negative mental loops about how everything is going wrong in our lives instead of appreciating all the amazing things that are actually going right.

When you consider a decision, ask yourself if you’re deciding to keep what you’ve always had, or if you’re opening yourself up to getting what you’ve always wanted.

Don’t (only) think about what could go wrong. Think about what could (also) go right.

Element 2: Intrinsic & Relative Value

Everything is relative.

“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours.” Einstein

It’s the same 2 hours in both cases, but your perception of its value is different. The same goes for making choices.

Think about the proportional value of what you’re going to win or lose when making a choice. If you stand to lose $5 and you’re a millionaire, it’s a (relatively) low risk decision. If you only have $20 to your name, though, suddenly $5 is a significant amount of money.

The intrinsic value is the same (near worthless paper), but the relative value is much different.

If the stakes of a choice seem high right now, take the course of action that will increase your relative value the most.

Element 3: Anchor Points

Anchoring is a cognitive bias that deals with our tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information we have when making a decision.

Think about buying a car. What’s the first thing the sales person does? Takes you to look at the most expensive car on the lot.

He knows you’re looking for something sensible for your family of 5. He knows they’ll never all fit into that shiny sports car he’s showing you. He also knows that when you see the price tag of that sports car, your mind uses that as the set point for how much cars cost.

It’s now the anchor point.

Now, when you look at the minivan, its price appears much more reasonable, relative to the sports car (see element 2).

That technique is a powerful 1, 2 punch to your psychology, and it works.

This is why a sales person will help you buy your suit first, and then the little stuff later: your mind uses the price of the suit as the anchor point for making price-based decisions later (relative to that anchor point).

So when you’re evaluating a decision, and how it will play out, understand that your emotional connection is directly linked to the first piece of information you consider. Use this to your advantage by anchoring yourself to a positive outcome, and go from there.


Decision making is a messy system with a lot of fuzzy math involved. Our conscious brain plays a much smaller role than we’d like to admit, so take the time to really understand how your non-conscious mind influences your choices.

Take control of your choices, and you’ve taken control of your life.

Remember Anything

“Hi there! Great to meet you!” I said as I shook her hand.

“We met 6 months ago.”


Guess how well the rest of the meeting went?

It’s incredible what having a poor memory can cost you. The weird thing is, you rarely find out what forgetting something will cost you. In the example I just shared, though, it cost me thousands of dollars.

What has having a poor memory wound up costing you over the years? What would you stand to get from even a small improvement in your memory?

I want to share a couple techniques I’ve used to sharpen my memory that you can use right away.


It’s a myth that having a good memory is something you either have or don’t. Like most things, it’s a skill you can practice.

Most people, however, hold the belief that “I have a crappy memory.” And then they wonder why they can never remember anything. Your non-conscious part of your mind believes what you tell it, and if you tell it you have a subpar memory, then guess what? That’s what you’ll get.

The first step in improving your memory is simply telling yourself your memory is getting better.


How can you remember something you never noticed in the first place? You can’t.

Once you tell yourself your memory is getting better, you’ll start paying attention to details you want to remember.

Think about meeting someone for the first time. You’re worried about what you’re going to say, what they think of you, whether or not they’re going to invest in your company, etc. Everything but focusing on paying attention to what their name is.

No wonder you’re going to forget it as soon as you hear it; you never really heard it in the first place.

Stop that “in one ear and out the other” process by shutting down the mental chatter and really notice details.

Do this and you’ll be ahead of 90% of everyone else.


Want to take your memory to the level beyond paying attention? You’re going to need a system.

We tend to remember things that are in some way related to information we already know. That’s why it’s easy to remember someone’s name if it’s the same as our brother, for example. We learn things by associating them in relationship to what we know already.

If you have no way of relating to a new piece of information, there’s nothing for it to connect to, and you’re much more likely to forget it.

What you need is a system that allows you to establish associations with any kind of new information.

Here’s a system that works for me. There are many systems out there, but this is a great place to start.


This works best on lists of information, like a grocery list.

Our minds recall interesting imagery more easily than logical or bland images. Let’s use that to our advantage.

Look at the first & second item on the list, and then create a compelling image in your mind that includes both items. Go to the extremes. Either in terms of number, amount, size, violence, etc. The more unusual picture in your mind, the more likely you are to remember it later.

Once you have that image firmly in your mind, drop it completely. It’ll be there when you get back, I promise.

Now, look at the second & third item on the list. Do the same process of “linking” those two items.

Continue like this until you’ve associated all items on the list.

Now, when you think of the first thing, it will bring up the image with item 1 & 2. Then the second item will prompt the image with item 2 & 3. Third item prompts the link between 3 & 4, and so on until you’ve remembered the whole list.

It’s surprising at how simple it is, but it works.


The main issue with this technique is if you forget one link in the chain, you’ll forget everything beyond it.

Also, it won’t let you recall details in non-sequential order. If you need item #19, you gotta start at the beginning.


If you find success with linking, I’d love to know! Shoot me a message via our contact form, or drop me a note on Facebook. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in exploring memory techniques in more detail (or other systems that are best suited for your needs,) check out my book “Perfect Recall” available at Amazon.

I go into the history of memory techniques, advanced techniques, and more. It’s aimed at people who are looking to sharpen their memory without wasting hours and hours on archaic techniques that don’t work.

It starts of with the basics, and moves on from there.