Dilbert does Confirmation Bias

At your next stop on your tour through uncharted decision making territory, Dilbert will safely guide you around one of the most dangerous animals to let into your modern world – confirmation bias. Widely feared for its ability to disguise itself as exactly the proof, you were looking for, it also comes with the benefit of quickly searching through vast environments – basically whatever you are looking for will light up like a wildfire in the jungle and everything else will fade into the darkness.

Confirmation bias is your tendency to seek, interpret and retrieve information consistent with your prior beliefs simply by ignoring or underweighting the aspects that does not fit – some of the closest bias family members are your persistence even after proven wrong, your 20/20 hindsight, your ability to see non existing correlations (average age of successful entrepreneurs is ~40, but people think of college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates) and your preference for first information (what you say first matters most – and your impression of a person or a company in one area automatically extends to other areas – but even mere repetition will automatically make you believe a statement more). Dangerous animal…

But a dangerous animal that you can recognize, when all evidence in your strategy paper points only in one crystal clear direction – the world is just never that black and white. Or when you have an innovative idea and there seems to be many good reasons to do it but few come to your mind not to – in fact you know this in the form of the advice “kill your darlings”. For example Blackberry had the same information as everyone else, but focused on keyboard phones for B2B communication, when market went to touchscreen B2C entertainment.

Just like the other animals you will meet, confirmation bias is here for a reason. It does help you sift through tons of data for the famous needle in a haystack. But remember to always pressure test your ideas – what are the most powerful counter arguments, what are the best alternatives, why do some disagree – a good trick here is wisdom of crowds. It has been proven that experts are excellent at explaining the facts of the past but are no match for a group of average people in guessing the future – simply use the average of the group after learning the facts but before debating.

If you are working on a strategy try the Playing-To-Win concept. It is a simple, cohesive and iterative approach to identify strong answers to the key strategic questions of what is your winning ambition, where do you want to play in terms of which offerings to which segments, how do you intend to win each of these focus areas, what core capabilities are needed and how do you support them with management systems. Take out two days and facilitate discussions around these five questions – individually to ensure deep input, in small groups to ensure broad input and plenary to build commitment.

The two first animals of availability and confirmation bias kills 1/3 of all strategies, so do take the proper precautions. In the next weeks you will meet the last three and learn how to handle them, but if you are already in the deep end with some of these animals, then contact me now at brian@behaviouralstrategygroup.com or +45-23103206.

Stay safe…

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