We’ve all made a bad decision. Everyone is subject to biases that impact our judgment and cause us to make mistakes. A recent study found that Major League Baseball umpires demonstrated biases and frequently made errors when determining whether a pitch that is not swung at is a ball or a strike. It seems umpires tend to favor the home team, calling a strike when the pitch was actually a ball more frequently for the home team than for visitors. An umpire was also about 16 percent more likely to erroneously call a pitch outside the zone a strike for an All-Star than for a pitcher who never appeared in an All-Star Game. This bias toward All-Stars was even stronger when the pitcher had a reputation for precise control as measured by the career percentage of batters walked.

You may be surprised to learn that these biases and shortcuts are not all bad – they help us make sense of a complex world with more information than we can handle. However, while helping to improve our thinking on basic issues, these biases can blind us and result in poor decisions on important issues. By being aware of our natural biases, we can train ourselves to make better business decisions and ultimately enhance strategy execution.

There are five common biases that limit our effectiveness.

1. Staying in Our Comfort Zone

Choosing solutions we are familiar with means we select the things that are brought to mind more frequently. When solving problems, we often choose solutions based on what we’ve heard has worked before. We feel more comfortable and assume that if we’re familiar with them, they’ll work in our situation as well.

2. Jumping to Conclusions

We may have a tendency to draw inappropriate conclusions from specific cases after seeing only one or two examples. We do not realize that the specific example we are relying on might not necessarily represent the true reality.

3. Anchoring

Anchoring occurs when we overly rely on a specific piece of information in our thought process. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the “anchored” information. Through this cognitive bias, the first information we learn can impact our future decision making.

4. Confirmation

This occurs when we seek only evidence that supports our assumption or intuition. In solving problems, one of the most dangerous traps is to gather information selectively; favoring data that seeks to confirm our ideas and excluding data that might disconfirm them.

5. Continuing to Invest in a Failing Course of Action

This judgment error can occur for a number of reasons. First, we don’t want to admit that our solution may not have been the right one. Second, we don’t want to appear inconsistent or irrational so we continue to hope for the best even when data simply don’t justify such a response. Finally, in organizations, not continuing could be perceived as giving up and may adversely affect one’s reputation. The challenge is not to eliminate these biases – they do serve a useful purpose – but rather to be aware of when they are negatively affecting your judgment. You can improve your judgment and critical thinking skills by following three guidelines:

  • Check your reasoning process. This action increases the likelihood you will identify/be aware of and take into account your biases and logical gaps.
  • Apply a systematic process. Judgment is enhanced if you follow a systematic approach. That provides a comprehensive framework for tackling assumptions, evaluating arguments and drawing conclusions.
  • Become well-informed and open to new experiences. By increasing your base of information and life experience you become more aware of the complexity and various perspectives on issues. This enhances your flexibility and reduces the risk of repetitive mistakes and tunnel vision.

Keep in mind that although these guidelines may appear simple, they require focus and discipline to ensure their consistent and effective use.

OnPoint Consulting is an organizational development firm that specializes in helping some of the world’s most successful companies enhance strategy execution through leadership development and training.