Ok, put your hand down, people may find it strange that you’re swearing an oath with your phone or PC anyway… As good a practice as it sounds to confirm your ideas/concepts with data, let’s understand a little something about bias and how our minds work first.
Look at the lines below. Not very interesting, a couple of horizontal lines of different lengths, with some arrows pointing in or point out. The bottom line is clearly longer than the top one. Or is it?
Take out a ruler and you will find the long horizontal lines are, in fact, identical in length (this is the famous Muller-Lyer illusion). So what does this have to do with business? Although this is just an optical illusion, it’s reminder that our gut feel isn’t always so accurate. We need data (a ruler in this case) to find out the correct answer.
Confirmation bias is our desire to seek out, believe, and recall data that supports what we already believed.
Have you ever bought a new car and all of a sudden noticed that car popping up everywhere you drive? These people must want to be like you! Let me tell you though, the population of vehicles in the US is about 260 million and they’ve been on the road for over 11 years on average, you buying a car didn’t change the vehicle population overnight, your mind did. You started noticing that car because you were now seeking out what you wanted to see.
Using data to confirm your ideas or concepts isn’t a bad thing by itself. If we want to bring real results and have an impact, data is required. Without a measurement tool one could not find the real answer to the Muller-Lyer illusion. The premise of this article is not that data is bad, the premise is how we seek and interpret data can be dangerous and our minds can circumvent an otherwise noble cause (speaking with data).
So what do I do about this? Is awareness all I need to avoid the biases? In part 1 of this series, I wrote about the say-do gap (another cognitive failure we are saddled with), and although knowledge of these things are paramount to our personal growth, it does not eliminate the bias from our minds. Go back up to the top of the article, look at the lines, I bet that the bottom one still appears longer to you as it does to me.
In the 3rd part of this series, I’ll bring these two things together, Say-do gap and confirmation bias, with some suggestions on how to improve on them. One of the best ways to start improving is reflection. What stood out to you the most as you read the article? Write it down, tell a friend, or leave a comment!
Experienced Project Management Executive