Checking your thinking: Confirmation bias in consultants

You’re certain that you’re right…but are you? Confirmation bias in consulting can lead to poor decision making, incomplete analysis and a failure to deliver value to your clients. Checking your thinking is a crucial step to getting rid of confirmation bias.

First a video

This 4 minute video is a great example of how, when presented with a puzzle to solve, we allow assumptions to guide us in the wrong direction:

Biases proceed to colour how we then read subsequent evidence, how we interpret events and unconsciously guide our thinking.

Objectivity is lost leading to some of the following behaviours:

  • Overconfidence in our research, conclusions and recommendations
  • Filtering data that confirms our conclusions
  • Also, ignoring or writing off data points that doesn’t suit our conclusions
  • Avoiding or shutting down conversations that challenge our thinking
  • Herding, or the echo chamber effect, where people continually agree with one another and cluster around an idea (something to be careful of when working in teams)

Challenging your own confirmation biases

1. Listen to the disagreements

Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen talked about how they do this at Andreessen Horwitz.

When they’re assessing an investment opportunity, Marc and Ben will divide the teams in two. One side for the investment and the other against. Discussions and arguments then follow on whether to proceed or pull out.

When listening to the points being raised ask yourself whether the person is making a good point? Does the data stack up? How can you prove the points they’re making?

Ultimately be open to being wrong in order to hear what the other person is saying.

2. Reverse the hypothesis

Remember: you could be wrong. Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things. Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history — they all made mistakes. Of course they did. They were human.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Simply ask what evidence is there that I’m wrong? What data would exist if your conclusion is wrong?

3. Remove any assumptions

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
Albert Einstein

What have you assumed to reach your conclusion? Are you confusing correlation of data and causation? Are you guilty of any of the following rhetological fallacies?

Infographic list of rhetological fallacies

Sources and further reading

David Sealey is a trusted adviser to senior executives on getting the most from their investment in digital and data. David created Storm81 as a place to share his passion for business, digital technologies, multichannel marketing and everything else around these topics.

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