Now this time it worked out far better for me than it did for the CEOs or division heads who came after me as virtually all lost their jobs. However, had they put the effort into understanding and fixing the underlying problem rather than killing the messenger, me, we would have all won.
Confirmation bias the company killer
What my lessons showcased over and over again is that confirmation bias is a company killer and it can affect any of us. In my own case it happened when I was buying a motorcycle many years ago. I was convinced I knew all I needed to know about buying a Honda GL1100 and I found a really good deal. I didn’t do a lot of checking because it was such a good deal that I figured I could fix anything that was wrong with the bike and still have a decent profit. Only problem is the seller lied about the age of the motorcycle, something I’d never even considered. Had I simply done what any smart buyer had done and had the bike looked at by a shop, this would have become instantly obvious and I would have saved days in small claims court trying somewhat unsuccessfully (the seller would change jobs every time I garnished his wages) to get my money back. Not to mention I looked like an idiot in court when I explained how I was tricked, and my wife tends to remind me of this mistake any time we get into an argument about buying anything.
Given my background I should have been immune to confirmation bias, but I wasn’t and trust me, you aren’t either.
Confirmation bias made and killed Trump presidency
If you think about it, the Republican contenders that he beat constantly seemed to believe Trump wasn’t a threat until he became unstoppable. This was their own confirmation bias in play and even though early on it was clear he was appealing to a critical number of supporters they never fielded an appropriate response.
The Democrats on the other hand, even though they are having a massive number of issues themselves mostly with email, appear to have landed a killing blow right at the start of the election because Trump wasn’t paying attention to any voice but his own. In a way this means that it is very likely confirmation bias both created the Trump candidacy and eliminated any chance of a Trump presidency.
I think Trump is an extreme case because he so aggressively avoids information that it is like watching a blind bull in a china shop. Now I’ll leave you with a personal admission. I haven’t yet figured out a way to fix this. To date I’ve tried to fix this from inside firms where I worked and then with a number of clients and most efforts have failed. I’ve tried to convince friends and family, but once set on a path most don’t budge. The fact that whistle blowers exist and generally get shot is proof that fighting confirmation bias can be as deadly to your career as having it. Or, more bluntly, overcoming confirmation bias in yourself is hard, overcoming it in someone else is often impossible and potentially suicidal.
However, if you have ever successfully overcome this with someone else I’d like to hear your story, and I’ll bet Trump’s staff would appreciate it as well. Apparently they’ve gone from being concerned to becoming suicidal or more likely just given up, and sadly this last one is generally the smart move.
Avoid people who only praise or only criticize you, seek out dissenting opinions from well-founded people, and constantly challenge your own unchanging beliefs, at least consider you could be wrong, and put in place reasonable contingency plans. And if you find yourself working in a company that is lead by confirmation bias, leave, you’ll be more successful someplace else.
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