Making better decisions – Avoiding confirmation bias

Fact or opinion?

This article originally appeared as a guest post on the Access/Information blog:  

Information is power. We’ve all heard this before, but are you basing your decisions on a limited or one-sided viewpoint?

Whether we’re conducting market research, due diligence investigations, strategic planning – or just keeping up on the latest topics – we rely on information to make sound decisions.  Unfortunately, it’s also easy to let confirmation bias get in the way of critical thinking.

Basically, you know you’re suffering from confirmation bias when you seek out evidence consistent with your own (or your clients’) beliefs and ignore evidence that doesn’t. It affects your choice of sources and how you interpret the data. And it definitely affects your outcomes.

Don’t risk your business or your reputation. Here are five tips for avoiding confirmation bias when gathering the information you need for decision making:

  1. Start early – When you’re under pressure and facing a short deadline, it’s hard to be objective. Make sure you start while there’s still time go through your full process before making any commitments.
  1. No stakeholders – If you’re making the ultimate decisions, or if you have any stake in their outcomes, don’t execute the research. Outsource it or send it to someone who won’t bring their biases to the table. Check with your company’s library or research department for help or referrals.
  1. Consult multiple sources – In addition to just one side of the story, your single source may contain errors. And when you gather and analyze information from multiple sources, you’ll start to see patterns, contradictions, and multiple sides to the story.
  1. Verify your sources – Only use trusted sources, and, even then, ask questions. Where do they get their information? What are their biases, and how do they affect the accuracy of this info? Which leads me to #5…
  1. It’s OK to use sources you don’t agree with – This excellent article from Bob Berkman shows how to think critically about your sources, including those that you might, as Bob says, “dismiss as propaganda.”

Avoid confirmation bias – and make decisions based on facts, not opinions.


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