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Thinking Traps - Part 1

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

Thinking traps – they’re all over, snaring most of us. And they can be really expensive.

January 30, 2017 - Sony Pictures gets a $1-billion 'wake-up call' amid a slump at the box office and in DVD sales.

Do you suppose there were no people inside Sony who saw that coming? Couldn’t this have been stopped at a $100 Million loss?

Think that someone at Volkswagen did not fully understand the potential consequences - $25 Billion and counting – for fudging diesel engine test results?

Confirmation Bias Exposed

PROBLEM: Decision making errors

PROBLEM LABEL: Confirmation Bias


Most people have a strong tendency to search for and remember data that confirms their preconceptions. People give more weight to evidence that confirms the way they see things and they undervalue evidence that could disprove their reasoning and conclusions.

People tend to see themselves as fair, impartial, and objective. Most of us want to be moral and ethical, unbiased, not prejudiced, and smart enough to know the difference.

And even people trained in professions such as medicine and science have had their results ruined by Confirmation Bias. When we are determined to find a certain result, somehow, our clever minds will come up with a way to find and support that result.

Look at the history of dieting studies. High cholesterol? Avoid fat, eat carbohydrates. (That didn’t work out well.) Eggs are bad for you; no, they’re good for you. We have learned that “if you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”

And who has not seen a strong-willed, highly confident executive convince peers and subordinates that they have come to a good decision, and now everyone needs to stop discussing it and get busy executing it. It is difficult to find the person who will check the confirmation bias of that kind of decision.

AVOIDING Confirmation Bias

It is strangely simple, but difficult. It often takes courage to act to address it. You may find yourself appearing to contradict the power structure in your organization. To be a naysayer rather than a supporter: a risky proposition.

Critical: Build Confirmation Bias Review Into Decision Making

Organizations need to clearly include and support this process in their decision making. To avoid confirmation bias ask disconfirming questions...

  • What data have we excluded or given low weight?

  • Have we found evidence that does not support the desired conclusion?

  • Have we reviewed sources of data that may be hostile to our concerns?

  • Has anyone who is not attached to this project (a truly independent Devil’s Advocate) reviewed our sources and methods?

  • Are there any alternative explanations for outcomes other than the one we desire?

  • What are the unintended potential consequences?

Reward people who are good at exploring potential confirmation bias. Don’t treat them like whistleblowers – their hard work might save you the money and embarrassment of making a decision that sounds good but ends badly.

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