The Streetlight Effect: Hidden Costs of Narrow Thinking

The Idea

Edited and curated by @philhagspiel

We don’t go where the truth is but where the process of seeking it is easy.


Have you ever found yourself searching for something you lost, but only in the areas where the light is good? This is known as the "streetlight effect," a cognitive bias that affects us all.

We easily get stuck in our established ways of thinking and rely on that which we have already experience with or that which seems readily available. We don’t go where the truth is but where the process of seeking it is easy.

And this narrow focus leads to all kinds of problems such as incomplete understandings of problems and missed opportunities in both business and personal life.

For example, if a company is struggling with low sales, the natural response might be to increase advertising or offer discounts to customers. But if the company doesn't also consider more fundamental changes, like reevaluating their product line or business model, they could be missing out on much more effective solutions.

Similarly, if you’re looking for a new job, you might default to positions that are similar to those you had in the past — a narrow focus that will almost guarantee that you’ll be missing out on exciting opportunities that are outside of the areas that your mental streetlights illuminate.

When looking for a solution, don’t limit yourself to where it’s easiest to look.


A few further resources you might like if you find the above idea interesting: