Confirmation Bias

Welcome to Part 2 in the series about cognitive biases. Critical thinking hats on…

  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to gather or interpret information that confirms our existing lines of thinking.

For example, I enjoy travelling and collect quotes and arguments for travelling (previous post) that ignore the anti-travelling view. (Is there one?!)  This is a blind spot for my critical thinking, albeit one that I recognise.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of cherry picking relevant information when time / resources are tight or when we have already settled on an answer.  However, we may regret discarding information in the future, particularly if our decisions are held up to scrutiny.

What can we do to minimise this bias?

One way is to deliberately seek out opposing views. Abraham Lincoln famously countered confirmation bias by forming his cabinet with those that publicly disagreed with him. Bold!

Creativity expert Roger Von Oech goes further and suggests we ask a fool to provide a different perspective and challenge our assumptions to stimulate our thinking.

BTW – If you are tempted into thinking this is all a bit fluffy then you may have succumbed to a confirmation bias about creativity experts; Von Oech has a Ph.D. from Stanford University and has provided creativity consulting to Apple, Disney, Sony and Intel. Continue reading Confirmation Bias

Biased? Me?!

Like most people, I like to think of myself as fairly rational. I’m not biased. Am I?

It turns out that there are lots of ways in which my thinking habits introduce bias into my decisions and judgements.  And yours.  I’m fascinated by these cognitive (aka thinking) biases and I’ve been keeping notes since discovering the concept on the Henley MBA. It’s both amazing and scary how they can distort our thinking.

Fortunately, I’ve found that learning about cognitive biases can help me recognise the common traps and so make better decisions.  In his book, A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink refers to this as equipoise: the ability to have the serenity to read the biases and failures in your own mind.

Continue reading Biased? Me?!

My freelancing decision

Earlier this week I was reminded of my decision to leave the seeming safety of permanent employment. Over supper in Buenos Aires a friend was describing her decision to go freelance and it made me reflect on my own decision.

My moment came six years ago. I remember vividly the surprising feeling of immediate comfort with the decision. There were no nagging doubts or caveats. It just felt right.

So why are some important decisions so easy and uncomplicated while others result in analysis paralysis?

I´m reading Malcolm Gladwell´s “Blink” at the moment. He talks about “thin-slicing” whereby expert decision-makers reduce the number of inputs into a decision to just one or two critical variables. The thrust of the book is that spontaneous decisions, based on limited information can be better than carefully considered ones, which may include numerous unconscious biases.

For example, Gladwell cites one study that shows that the respect (in the form of tone of voice) that a doctor uses when talking with patients is a better predictor of medical malpractise incidence than the doctor´s training, credentials or actual skill.

A rational, structured analysis of the decision to go freelance would likely consider job security, career progression, day rates, expenses, personal situation, current and future demand for skill sets, mobility, etc, etc…

But my thin slice at the time was simple: would I experience, learn and grow more where I was or as a freelancer? Decision made.

Of course we need to balance intuition and analysis in decision-making but perhaps we should all take a bit more notice of our unconscious thinking at times?

In Perspective

It’s easy to over-complicate decisions in business and in life.

Too much information. Too many choices. Too many stakeholder voices. No clear winner.

How to strip away all the noise? How to create time and space for sense-making so that the end decision is sound?

A trip to the great outdoors always helps me get things in perspective. I’m not really sure why… Maybe because being surrounded by the forces of nature reminds me of how short life is. Being at sea or up a mountain is humbling because I am at the mercy of mother nature.

The great outdoors energises me and helps me see things more simply, more intuitively.

I probably knew the right decision from the start but now the choice is obvious.

I’m interested; how do you create time and space to get things in perspective? Does location play a part?

 

PS – If you haven’t already heard Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford then I highly recommend it; “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” (VIDEO from 9:00 minutes)