The Availability Heuristic OR “What you see is all there is”

[Note: I shared this mental model with my email subscribers on Oct 23, 2016. If you want to receive a new mental model every week, join the club.]


What it is:

It’s a shortcut that our minds take, when evaluating the consequences of a decision. We ascribe more importance to the first examples that come to mind. But here’s the thing – they’re not necessarily more important or probable. They’re just easier to recall / visualize.


Examples in business:

  • What you see is all there is – When we get into a strategic business partnership, we get complacent, thinking “we’ve made it”. But we haven’t. It’s just that success is easy to visualize, but the thousand ways it can fail are not.
  • Tyranny of the quantifiable – what gets measured gets managed. Your teams chase specific performance targets, and not your overall business goals. What doesn’t get measured might as well not exist!
  • Attribute substitution – when we hear a hard question, we substitute it with a simple one. “How happy are you?” becomes “How much money do you have?”. “Will this strategy work?” becomes “Do I remember an instance of this working?” Never mind that you’ve only heard of instances where it worked (if it didn’t work, you probably wouldn’t have even heard about it).

What gets measured gets managed - Peter Drucker

Rules to protect yourself:

  1. Remind yourself that just because you can recall or visualize something easily, it doesn’t become more probable or valuable.
  2. Use checklists for decisions that are influenced by a number of factors. [Note: checklists are very useful when evaluating startups at OperatorVC. It’s surprisingly easy to get swayed by a good looking product].
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Further reading:


Linked to: Mere Exposure / Association Theory

Filed Under: Psychology and Human Behavior