Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

The Economist Agrees: First is Best

Which idea is best? Most often, it’s the first idea.

I’ve written about the first-is-best bias before. This morning, I was pleased to see that The Economist‘s columnist, Schumpeter, agrees with me. This week, Schumpeter reports on new research that finds the first-is-best bias in everything from chewing gum preference to the costs of television advertising (the first ad slot costs more than the second and so on). When people are distracted (and who isn’t these days?), they often go with the first solution they hear.

So what does this have to do with persuasive communication? Two things:

  1. If you’re trying to persuade an audience that a given idea is best, it’s best to present that idea first. If you need to present several alternatives, present your preferred alternative first.
  2. If, on the other hand, you want a thorough and balanced discussion of all the alternatives, you need to overcome the first-is-best bias.  You can do this through “synchronized” discussions. For instance, you could ask participants to write down their thoughts and submit them simultaneously. Since they’re submitted at the same time, they don’t influence each other. Your job, as the idea coordinator, is to ensure that all the submissions are discussed fully and fairly.

You can find the article that Schumpeter reports on — “First is Best”, by Dana Carney of UC Berkeley and Mahzarin Banarji of Harvard here.

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