Cherished ideas

From rooting for the underdog to the recognition of those who have battled adversity, it is easy to see the cultural importance we place on strength of character.

It is no surprise that we look for the same strengths in our leaders, as we know the best idea is nothing without a standard-bearer with the inner steel to implement it. The admiration we show to leaders is also the adulation they crave that inspires them to persevere on our behalf. Admirable in deed I would argue, but only necessary in part: Certainly something that will both help and hinder innovation.

Within the complicated psychology of leadership, we can all recognise that single mindedness is a trait we share. From the effect ‘sunk costs’ (1985) have on our investment decisions, to the way in which we validate things by repeating them in public discourse – our views are skewed and our opinions compounded by a self-reinforcing set of beliefs called the “availability cascade” (Kuran and Sunstein, 1999).

There is a problem when businesses do not to involve the end customer or try to understand their point of view

As humans we seek information to support our point of view and anchor decisions on references to existing knowledge. This entrenchment is then reinforced by our tendency to see ourselves as less biased than others, identifying irrationality in them but never ourselves. The problems we face with innovation or any challenge to the status-quo are manifold, from the trouble with escaping our biases to come up with a good idea in the first place, to having the confidence to execute it at all.

The more I think about it, the more the problem of single-mindedness is a fly in the ointment of those who are trying to assess cherished ideas, and the ways in which customer involvement may remedy this problem. There is a problem when businesses do not to involve the end customer or try to understand their point of view, as well as a failure to test products in real time.

One interesting development is in online advertising, where there is the increasing use of multivariate testing represents a more user-centred perspective. This is when two versions of the same product are developed in parallel allowing businesses to establish which versions users prefer and in so doing prioritising their needs over the ego of a designer. Ideas from AB and multivariate testing can be used to improve business decisions about product development

While I am certain this may not sit well with all leadership palettes and may involve some collateral damage to a few cherished ideas, I take consolation in the fact that neither should bother either the end customer or the shareholder. 

Mindset reminder

  • While decision-makers need to be strong, we must be aware that our entrenched beliefs are barrier to change
  • A greater focus on the end-user can democratize the way ideas are assessed and help overcome single-mindedness


Kuran, T. and Sunstein, C (1999) "Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation". Stanford Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 4. pp. 683-768.
Arkes, H. and Blumer, C. (1985) "The Psychology of Sunk Cost". Organisational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 35: 124-140.

Ben Fehnert