See if you’ve ever been caught in this personally embarrassing social media scenario:
You find something in the news that gets your blood churning because it aligns perfectly with your thoughts and opinions. You post it on Facebook and within about 10 minutes people start pointing out that Snopes or some other fact checker has found the item you posted to be untrue.
I hate when that happens!
If you’ve gone through this, you’ve been the victim of “confirmation bias.” It’s a fact of human nature that we tend to accept without question ideas that agree with what we believe to be true and we reject ideas that contradict what we believe to be true.
I’m sure you know some people who surround themselves with yes-men or yes-women, and it may be more common in business management that in almost any other field. It’s very dangerous because it can cause you to:
- Reject new ideas,
- Lose good team members,
- Fail to see dangers that lie ahead, and
- Admit and correct your mistakes.
I’ve often seen this in business expressed through the “not invented here” roadblock. A new person joins the team and suggests a different way of accomplishing something. The idea encounters stiff head winds. In a perfect world, the idea would be given a fair chance, but people aren’t perfect and due to confirmation bias, the new idea may be shot down.
If business leaders allow confirmation bias to reach a toxic level, good people will leave because their ideas are not given sufficient consideration. In fact, the best strategy is to recognize the fact of confirmation bias and take proactive steps to wrestle it to the ground.
It’s healthy to seek contrary opinions. We do this somewhat when we make ourselves or others in on the decision-making process to play devil’s advocate. But I don’t think that really goes far enough. Usually when we go through the devil’s-advocate exercise, it’s more of a formality than something we take seriously.
Writing for the investment world and using Warren Buffet as an example, Roger Dooley gives two essential steps to take in order to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of making a bad decision due to confirmation error:
- Recognize the threat and especially your personal danger of falling into the confirmation bias trap, and
- Go out of your way to seek and understand the opinions and ideas that contradict your thoughts.
It takes big people to set aside their biases and honestly examine the other side of issues and ideas. It requires humility and the discipline to always make the effort.
Are you up to the challenge?