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How Facebook investors fooled themselves

What bliss. There is a psychological explanation for why Facebook investors chose to ignore the realities of the investment. It's called "Availability bias."

You're just always on our minds. And it leads us to temptation, Mark.
James Martin/CNET

When disasters happen, everyone wants an explanation.

This is partly so that it can't happen again and partly in order to find something or someone to blame.

I am relieved, therefore, that we finally have a culprit for the slight debacle that was the Facebook IPO.

No, it isn't Facebook's CFO, nor some rapacious banker, seated upon a velvet Bentley driver's seat. Instead, the cause of this tragedy was Availability Bias.

Should you not have heard of this phenomenon, or syndrome or complex it's the idea that if people find something important, they believe that everyone else must find it important too.

I am grateful to the availability of the Harvard Business Review for helping me understand its importance.

It seems that we, the weak-willed, are prone to making judgments based on what we can remember, what we think seems, well, obvious and familiar. We worry about plane crashes far more than we should, because they are always news, for example.

Obviously, this thinking doesn't always work out well for us. We waft around Facebook like flies around dung, in the assumption that we are participating in the world's most important progressive phenomenon, rather than a pitiful, sheep-like lurch away from loneliness.

The lovely thing is, though, that we are not alone. For corporations, being people, are prone to these sorts of misjudgments too. It is, according to wise minds, not too dissimilar to the notion held by tech companies that they can copy the iPad.

Companies seemed to think that creating a tablet was a no-brainer. Indeed, Microsoft might well be the next in line with this thought.

Naturally, the Harvard Business Review offers indicators for companies to follow to avoid the availability bias trap: Focus on discovering customers' needs. Pursue a long-term strategy. Don't follow the herd.

Yes, obvious thoughts are still available in the Harvard Business Review.

It's odd that fine and intelligent people don't focus on one possible answer to this conundrum, one that surely has offered copious evidence over time: people are innately greedy, thoughtless, rapacious beasts.

Sometimes, they don't think because they can already touch the hull of their new 100-foot yacht, lick the front door of their new faux-Georgian mansion, and sniff the finely honed interior of their new pink Tesla.

Might it be that the Facebook IPO disappointment wasn't down to Availability Bias, but Sure Thing Syndrome?