Most of us live in a world of full inboxes, shifting deadlines and a confusing array of acronyms and buzzwords. We often need heuristics (a mental shortcut or rule of thumb) and biases as a way of navigating the swirling sea of information, decisions and choices while quickly sorting the “chaff from the wheat” in our daily lives.

If life is the study of attention, then what we pay attention to is intimately related to what we think about most, which is based on various predilections and predispositions of our three-tiered brain (e.g., see the use of redundant messaging, vivid and active imaging, sexual links, etc.).

Heuristics and biases are ubiquitous because they are innate to the human animal. They apply to customers, colleagues, executives, investors and any other category to which we assign human beings.

To better understand how people's distortions, shortcuts and biases affect how you market to various stakeholders, you should be aware of people's thinking patterns and perceptual filters, including your own.

The biases and heuristics that are most relevant to this discussion include anchoring and adjustment, availability bias and confirmation bias.

Anchoring and Adjustment

Various independent lines of research suggest that to explain or describe an event, people anchor on the first number or evidence they hear. Witness the countless examples of professionals using strategic anchoring to cut a better deal or bring you closer to their position.

In one research study on this topic, participants were asked to estimate the percentage of African countries in the United Nations. Before the participants answered, they watched the research leader spin a wheel with numbers from 1 to 100. When the wheel landed on 10, one group of participants guessed 25%. When the wheel landed on 65, another group guessed 45%.

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Michael L. Perla is a principal consultant at a sales and marketing consulting firm. He can be reached at