Bias for action


A few strands of thought that have started to wind themselves around each other for me on this theme: how to grow a bias for action.

Three of the strands sound like definitive set of rules – but are more notes to myself (as I’m sure there are more to add):

  1. Use UIHD (see below).
  2. Use active not passive language.
  3. Build a prototype instead of a long presentation or proposal.


“Bias for action” comes from the endearingly earnest Unless I Hear Differently (for which UIHD is the unavoidable acronym). Its creators pitch this phrase as a path to making things happen faster, for power to transfer to those willing to get on with things.

It is a lovely little mantra, rule and reminder for individuals and teams that they’ve agreed to get on with things, not to wait for permission or delay things by not giving people’s requests for input the attention they need in time.

We want to grow a bias for action in the Brilliant Noise culture, for there to be a preference for getting on with things – prototyping and all that good stuff.

It is, of course, in tune with the business and tech culture right now of agile, pilot and scale, rapid prototyping and all of those related species of ideas. There is more to it than a process or cute mantras, however.

Active language

It is about language, as it is often is with culture. How we talk about the things, the names we have for habits, the in-jokes and the acronyms – all are tells, clues to our habits, and part of them. The repeating of certain words – and speaking in certain idioms and cadences, using jargon and turns of phrase – establishes who we think we are and how we think we ought to behave.

When we set out our tone of voice at Brilliant Noise, there were two ways of communicating to one another how we ought to sound to the outside world. First was a list of words we wanted people to describe our talks, our writing, our proposals and reports.

Second we put up Orwell’s Five Rules of Good Writing.

In trying to grow our group and personal habit of writing with meaning, jargon free, direct, interested and excited, we sometimes put up the rules on screen – or the person proofing a document does – and tests the text against the rules.

And rule four – “never use the passive where you can use the active” – gives our bias for action another nod. Going back and reviewing a text, tweaking the language to be more active is helpful, it shifts your state of mind from tentative suggesting to demands for action. Unless I hear differently… 

Prototypes not long proposals

One thing moving from PR  to digital taught me was – if you want amazing things to happen in marketing, add data people and developers to the team as early as possible. Hires two and three at Brilliant Noise were Beth and Martin, filling those respective roles very nicely.

The bias for action has spilled over into pitches and proposals. If you work in a design agency or development house this will not be news, but starting to put into practice at Brilliant Noise has been incredibly powerful and the resounding feeling in the team is that we need to extend this to as many types of work as possible.

One example – recently we started to draw up a proposal for turning a set of community management and social media processes into web app for people to use on their smartphones. Then we realise we could just create the first iteration of the app and show that instead of a slide deck.

Of course, sometimes a formal proposal is unavoidable, especially when there’s a procurement function in the mix, but still prototypes can accelerate the conversation. I suspect it also has a pull effect – the clients with the biggest bias for action are fastest to leap on the idea shown to them in prototype form – because they want stuff to happen as much as we do.