How leaders can manage organizational bias


Continuing with the theme of confirmation bias, an organization’s leaders can play an important role in discouraging, or at least managing the risk, of confirmation bias within their businesses.

Here are three things leaders can do to protect decision making processes from distortion by this pervasive human bias:

  1. Recognize the bias and remind yourself and others to look for it when making decisions or conducting analyses. Remind yourself that the authors of everything you read (including this article) are making a point that is supported by the data they present, but is not necessarily by data they do not present — and in fact may not even have seen if they did not look hard enough for contrary data. (Since this article is on confirmation bias, we felt compelled to do a short search for evidence refuting the idea that people tend to suffer from this bias, but found very little. There appears to be consensus about confirmation bias.) Remind yourself that the talented and well-intentioned people providing you with analysis and recommendations are also subject to confirmation bias.
  2. Ask “what else could it be?” Think creatively about alternative explanations and alternative solutions. Explore the whole feasible set, if possible.
  3. Encourage the expression of contrary views and ideas… ask for them! Aggressively seek out and try to understand contrarian views. For many us, the first impulse is to refute contrarian views and argue our own. But the best decisions are likely to be made by those who “seek first to understand rather than be understood.”