IT’S not the genius who can trigger new things, but the one who acts like a child asking a lot of questions. The problem is that they’re few and far between. That’s because many of us, when trying to figure out a problem, gravitate toward the obvious, proximate, and readily available solution.
That’s a single bias. If you’re a carpenter, you treat a problem like a protruding nail by using the readily available hammer as the solution.
But then, how many of us would think of other uses of a protruding nail instead of hammering it down? How about using the nail to hang a portrait of your girlfriend? That’s assuming that you’re legally and morally capable of doing that.
The hammer is the side arm of a carpenter. It’s the only tool he needs to do his job well enough. And it makes perfect sense for him and his customers. That’s why we often call a carpenter to do wood work. Corollary to this, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have a convincing story to tell in “Think like a Freak” (2014):
“If your three-year old child is wailing and your five-year old is standing nearby with a devilish grin and a plastic hammer, it’s a good bet the hammer had something to do with the wailing.” The lawyers among us have a better term for it, circumstantial.
It’s the same conclusion you’ll reach when you see your married neighbor coming out of a motel room with a young, beautiful girl in tow. An ordinary mortal would readily conclude that they did something immoral, illegal, and fattening to the girl. But how many of us would think that they both attended a prayer meeting? Then why can’t your neighbor bring his spouse to that prayer meeting, instead?
I’m stretching your imagination. That’s exactly one good approach towards innovation. In a Harvard Business Review article, entitled “Three Cognitive Traps that Stifle Global Innovation,” management experts Simone Ahuja, Ranjan Banerjee, and Neil Bendle talk about “availability” as the first assumption trap in this planet.
In the case of your married neighbor, he may be with someone who is readily available and willing.
That’s the concept of the “availability” trap. Ahuja, Benerjee and Bendle give the example of one Indian dish to prove this point. “The dishes seen in British curry houses, such as Chicken Tikka Masala, are far from representative of Indian cuisine. But that’s what’s available; so that’s what the usual Brit thinks of when you talk about Indian food. Similarly, most executives in developed countries have some familiarity with developing countries’ urban, affluent, rapidly growing middle classes.”
So when thinking about your first love in high school, you can easily rattle off one beautiful name that’s still clear, vivid, and unequivocal in your mind even after 45 years. That’s why you long to hear The Cascades’ sing once again, “The Last Leaf,” to refresh your memory of your lost love. That’s simply because she’s the only one available to you at the time, we’ll at least, and she is on top of the heap.
Now, times have changed. She’s no longer available. And to soften the impact about the loss after all these years, you can only imagine that your first love may look like a rusty two-door refrigerator today compared to what she appeared like before—someone with the same body fat as a Mongol No. 2 pencil.
If you think that’s ridiculous. Try to Google her name or do a Facebook search like the current hot fad advertised extensively on your smart phone.
Never mind about your first love. The point is that right now you’re happy and content with your spouse and grown up kids who are professionals. Your availability bias is in favor of your family, because they’re always there to support you until your old age, no matter how many times you’ve changed the will for each one.
In addition to the general benefits of having your family available on your side, they can help you change your mind set in case you wander off someplace under the guise of an illuminating research on what this world could offer.
Seriously, if you’re stuck with available resources and you’re not happy with it, ask one childish question: “Is there a better way of doing things?”
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to email@example.com or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn for his random management thoughts.#editorialexcellence-as-a-way-of-life