Availability Bias

McKinsey post on bulletproof problem solving: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/how-to-master-the-seven-step-problem-solving-process

Charles Conn: Availability bias is the one that I’m always alert to. You think you’ve seen the problem before, and therefore what’s available is your previous conception of it—and we have to be most careful about that. In any human setting, we also have to be careful about biases that are based on hierarchies, sometimes called sunflower bias. I’m sure, Hugo, with your teams, you make sure that the youngest team members speak first. Not the oldest team members, because it’s easy for people to look at who’s senior and alter their own creative approaches.”

Hugo Sarrazin: It’s helpful, at that moment—if someone is asserting a point of view—to ask the question “This was true in what context?” You’re trying to apply something that worked in one context to a different one. That can be deadly if the context has changed, and that’s why organizations struggle to change. You promote all these people because they did something that worked well in the past, and then there’s a disruption in the industry, and they keep doing what got them promoted even though the context has changed.”


  • simple heuristics and explanatory statistics
  • Problem solving is answering, “What should I do?”


  • What are the forces acting upon the decision maker?
  • How quickly is the answer needed?
  • With what precision is the answer needed?
  • Are there areas that are off limit?
  • Are there areas where you particularly like to find our solution?


  • What are we trying to solve?
  • What are the constraints that exist?
  • What are the dependencies?
  • Disaggregate the problem into smaller ones, like a tree.
  • Classic ROA or profit tree: revenue = price * quantity, cost = cost * quantity.
  • Costs are variable or fixed, and pricing scheme can be broken down.

Rigorously PRIORITIZE:

  • How important is this branch of the tree in the overall outcome we seek?
  • How much can I move the lever?
  • Which branches are unimportant and none of us can change?

Analyze while MANAGING BIASES:

  • Use simple heuristics and explanatory statistics.
  • Understand the shape and scope of the problem at hand.
  • When availability bias is evident, ask, “This was true in what context?”
  • Sometimes maximize learning with iterative, rapid tech feedback loops.

Synthesize to STORY SELL:

  • If can’t tell a story, then decision maker can’t move people to action.
  • Present a “likely answer” given a clearly stated set of conditions.
  • Acknowledge the uncertainty throughout from start to finish.

There’s a reference to “sunflower bias/effect” — which is the equivalent of HiPPO doctrine (i.e. hierarchy bias).

I really like this framework so I interpreted in my own language (it’s not as elegant :+) for my own use. Word doc for Problem Solving is here: