Discover more from Admired Leadership Field Notes
The Availability Heuristic and the Power of Review
The Availability Heuristic is one of the mental shortcuts leaders use to make choices easier and faster. Like other heuristics, leaders use them as rule-of-thumb guides to make their lives more efficient. Unfortunately, what makes things easier is not always best.
The Availability Heuristic suggests that decision-makers draw most on information from recent memory. Because recent examples and information are more easily recalled, leaders use them to form contemporary judgments.
Rather than relying on all the information important to making a quality decision, leaders overweigh the examples and data most available in their memories. In other words, whatever we have learned or experienced lately plays a disproportionate role in our decision-making. This bias often leads to inaccurate and faulty choices.
Smart leaders guard against this bias by knowing it exists and not allowing themselves to overly focus on recent events and information. But those leaders who understand the power of the heuristic at a deeper level also use it to their advantage. Let’s explore an amazingly positive feature of this heuristic.
Try this parlor trick: Prior to a presentation or group discussion, write down 10 or so words or phrases you believe are highly descriptive. Words like toxic, handsome, bittersweet, nebulous, resplendent, quixotic and sanguine are some examples.
Now, select words and phrases you like that might match or replace words you normally use but are more illustrative. Twenty minutes or so before the presentation or discussion, review these words by reading them several times. Next, put them away and go about your business.
By making these words more easily available in your mental lexicon, you will likely find you unintentionally use one or two of them during your presentation. That’s the positive power of the Availability Heuristic.
Any time you review information, data, working premises, insights, or language prior to an intellectual task, you make these ideas more available for use. Your brain does wonderous things with what is most available without you trying to do it on purpose.
The Availability Heuristic is both a bias and an aid in making choices and decisions. On the positive side, it teaches us to review information and ideas important to us just prior to performance. Those who capture its power will benefit from how the mind naturally works.
Make it a habit to review what is important or insightful prior to discussion or decision-making. It will confirm how amazing the mind really is.