In November 2016, a nation was shocked.

Donald Trump had been elected the 45th president of the United States.

People took to the streets to protest his victory while he smiled and thanked his supporters.

If you look a bit closer, the writing was on the wall.

People were dissatisfied with the way things were and they just wanted to put food on their tables.

They didn’t vote for polarization, gender discrimination, or racism. They voted for their jobs and livelihoods.

It was only a shock to people, myself included, because we were living in an echo chamber.

We read news that supports our thoughts, hang out with people who have the same views, and block what we don’t believe in.

I agree that you should be selective in what you consume, but how much is too much?

The confirmation bias at work

The confirmation bias is a cognitive bias in which people seek out or interpret information to support their thoughts, ideas, and or assumptions.

If you think red cars are the best then you’ll seek out information to support that idea.

If you think Facebook is the best advertising platform, you’ll seek out information to support that and give contrary information less weight.

In the 1960’s Peter Wason performed an experiment that shed light on the confirmation bias.

Volunteers were asked to determine the pattern that controlled how three numbers were arranged. The numbers given were “2-4-6.” The volunteers were allowed to construct their own series to test their hypothesis.

Wason only told them whether or not their series conformed to the rule or not. The rule was an ascending series of numbers so a pattern of “5-10-15” would be as correct as “1-3-9.”

The participants would construct series that were far more specific. The interesting part of the experiment was that participants would only test series of numbers that could confirm their hypothesis.

They didn’t bother with series that could disprove it. For example, if they thought the rule was increase by 20, they would only test numbers that proved it “20-40-60” and ignore the ones that disproved it such as “1-2-3.”

The problem with the confirmation bias is that it’s unconscious. We form our ideas and subconsciously find ways to support them. On the other hand, any information that refutes our ideas is ignored or given less weight.

Implications in business

Why does this matter to you?

Business is built on a series of assumptions. Many are true and many turn out to be false. Some that were once true become false over time.

20 years ago, display ads had a click-through rate of 70% or more. Today, that has reduced to less than one percent.

If you were stuck in your ways and refused to accept this new reality, you could be throwing money at a campaign that would never yield a profit.

The worst part is we tend to surround ourselves with people like us. We read the same articles, watch the same TV shows, and go to the same places. Divergent ideas aren’t praised – they’re vilified.

That’s a disadvantage in business. Just like half the country was surprised by the 2016 election, so too will your business be surprised by new strategies, techniques, and technology.

What should you do?

It’s easy to say be open to new ideas. The problem is this cognitive bias is subconscious. We don’t know when we’re doing it so it’s difficult to stop.

There’s an easier fix – outsource it.

Let me explain.

You and I are the way we are because of years of conditioning. A single article on the internet may not change that. Instead of fighting a losing battle, recruit people who have a different perspective.

In 2013, World War Z was released in theaters. The plot was simple. A virus turns people into zombies and the unaffected are running for their lives.

The only nation to survive was Israel. They built a huge wall around Jerusalem which the zombies couldn’t climb.

What convinced them to make that fateful decision? It was a concept called the tenth man rule. When the country got outlandish reports that no one on the 10 man Security Council believed, the tenth man would investigate it on principle. It was a precautionary measure.

You can do the same in your business.

No, I don’t mean hire a tenth man whose job is to second guess you. Rather, when you’re too sure of something, actively seek out people to poke holes in your argument. If it can’t stand up to sound reasoning then it may be a sign you should go back to the drawing board.

Conclusion

Nothing in business is a sure bet.

We’re often blinded by our own biases.

Instead of going with your gut and evidence that looks good on paper, actively seek out different perspectives.

Sometimes you’ll prove you’re on the right path. Every now and then, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, energy, and money.

Let me know if your process for seeking out divergent opinions to improve your decision making in the comments section.