Lenses and mirrors in decision making

Lenses and mirrors in decision making

A colleague recently told me I was obsessed with lenses.

Apparently I say a lot of things like:

  • “let’s look at this through a client lens”
  • “if we look at this through the lens of a user then…”
  • “if I use a shareholder lens…”

Ignoring my clumsy verbal constructs, I realised she was right.

As I thought more about what I was doing, I observed subconcious attempts to overcome my own egocentric bias.

This is is a common cognitive bias. It’s where we lean too much on our own worldview, beliefs and experiences when trying to consider how others might see things.

Egocentric bias affects different people in different ways. Age is proven to be a factor. There are plenty of other factors shown to have an effect too.  What’s true is that everyone experiences some egocentric bias.

Egocentric bias often comes with a side dish of false consensus effect.

This is when we overestimate how much other people share our own behaviours and beliefs.

You often hear it at play in meetings when someone says something like: “I don’t want to speak for Jane because she’s not here, but I think that she would say…”

As a leader in a scaling business this duo of biases is likely to pop up frequently.

Scaling is a game of identifying and solving problems in business over and over. Leaders to be able to understand problems from a range of perspectives.

When faced with a problem or decision there are three steps I take before making a decision:

  1. Who – what groups or individuals might have a perspective on this?
  2. What – what do we know (not think) about what they think? How can we learn more?
  3. Why – why might they think that or react in a certain way to a decision? What is behind this thinking?

By considering the issue through their lenses, I can tackle egocentricity and false consensus bias at work head on.

It’s a lot better than using a mirror.

Five ways to reduce false consensus in decision-making

  1. Take time to appreciate alternative perspectives – through building more diverse teams, being curious about perspectives and seeking to understand viewpoints that conflict with your own
  2. Understand why you might think what you think – once you understand that you can see where different perspectives might arise and why
  3. De-bias how you make decisions – for example slowing down decision-making, carefully selecting the physical environment where you make a decision and using quantitative data rather than subjective estimates
  4. Create psychological distance from your own perspective – I like to think about decisions from the perspective of my future self. This temporal distancing helps reduce contemporaneous factors from decisions.
  5. Raise awareness of false consenus – talk about it in teams and think about how you can design decision-making processes that take account of the inevitability of false consensus.

A longer version of this article originally appeared in my email newsletter for founders and CEOsBuild. It features insights, techniques & thinking for those navigating the ups-and-downs of the scaling journey and developing their own leadership.


I work as a fractional Chief Operating Officer (COO), consultant and advisor. I created the B3 framework® for company building and I also write a newsletter called Build for leaders who care about creating resilient and sustainable businesses.