Obviousness fallacy

Obviousness fallacy is the notion that the options that are most convenient, most popular, and most easy to understand and manage, are the best ones. 

By extension, the less convenient, less popular, and less visible options seem riskier, require more effort, and are just generally lower quality in some way.

One example of obviousness fallacy is doing what’s always worked. For example, a movie studio decides to make more movies following the same plots, or source the same or similar talent as the past, because it’s historically always worked. If the new movies succeed, then they believe there’s a causal factor; in reality, they’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy that excludes many other possibilities.

Another example is when business leaders prioritize projects that promise quick growth and with metrics that are easy and convenient. For example, in marketing, this means focusing on channels instead of a wider strategy. Companies quickly dive into performance marketing methods like paid acquisition and programmatic approaches like search engine optimization, without investing in a brand and positioning foundation, with the hopes of quick returns. It works, until it doesn’t; Airbnb, Birdies, and authors like Ryan Holiday suggest that these channels aren’t as sure bets as they seem. That’s hard to believe when there are so many agencies and businesses incentivized to make the case that they are.

The final example is believing that an obvious best practice can be applied, blindly, into your practice or your team. The grass is always greener. One business tried taking on strategy work because that service offering was what it didn’t do that other customers did. Peter Kang articulates this in this statement, “If it worked for them, it’ll work for us.” He writes, “What might work for one agency business may not always be the right thing for us – we may have different circumstances, resources, collaboration styles, and a number of other factors that make a seemingly good idea for one agency an ineffective one for another…. I default to the notion that it’s very rare for anything to transfer seamlessly from one business to another.” 

P.S., One more example, that I’m still developing, is the notion of profit centers and cost centers. While sales and marketing can be seen as obvious profit centers, I believe that every function could effectively be positioned as a profit center—not costs to be cut. For example, while some companies see HR as a cost center, it’s clearly got potential to be positioned as a profit center, especially in the tech industry; as one expert says to Carolyn Chen in Work, Pray, Code, “Your biggest and most expensive and most important asset walks out of the door every day and voluntarily walks back in. The capital of the building, the tools, the infrastructure, the carpet is the least important part. That part behind your forehead is really expensive and very important. How do we take care of the part that carries it around, including the one that allows that to do its best work?”

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