Anchoring Bias

I suffer from an anchoring bias.

We all do to some extent, but I really suffer from it. We "anchor" our thinking relative to the limited information we have available or to our experience (1). I had a recent experience that nicely illustrates my frustration with my bias.

I was working on a test strategy for the second iteration of a project. I was struggling (for maybe a day or so) to wrap my mind around the problem and how we were going to test the new challenges this iteration was offering us. I "knew" what we needed to do, but I just couldn't seem to find a way to articulate that in terms of a strategy.

My problem was that I was thinking in terms of the strategy I had developed for the first iteration. I had that strategy open on my desktop as I worked and I referred back to it for ideas. When day three came around, a project stakeholder called an early morning meeting to talk about test planning. I still had nothing...

As I walked up the stairs I tried to think what I would report. What was I going to say? Give me more time? I thought I had spent too much time on it already. There had been too many false starts.

That's when the strategy hit me. In the stairwell somewhere between the first and second floor I had the solution. After I got to the meeting room, I pulled out a sheet of paper, drew a quick chart and jotted some notes. Once the conversation began I referred to the chart every now and then, but for the most part just talked about my ideas. I was finally able to articulate my strategy.

What happened was I was finally away from the stupid first iteration strategy. I didn't have it in the front of my mind. All I had in the stairwell was pressure and future embarrassment. I stopped thinking about how to tell people how we will solve the problem and just thought about the problem. A solution came.

I think I need a good way to identify when I'm suffering from an anchoring bias. I know that for the next few weeks I will be actively thinking about it, but give it a month and I will have mostly forgotten the experience. What heuristics can I use to identify a bias of this type? How do I know when I'm relying too heavily on a specific past experience, a past artifact, or even a template?

Any ideas?

1. Chapman, Gretchen B., and Eric J. Johnson. Anchoring, Confirmatory Search, and the Construction of Values. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Vol. 79, No. 2, August, pp. 115-153, 1999