In layman’s terms this means that we see what we want to see, and we look only at information that supports what we think is true, or what we want to be true. Think about which news companies you follow online. Think about who you follow on Twitter. Do they tend to post things that you agree with? This could be an example of confirmation bias, where we favour news and opinions from sources that say things we agree with.
This phenomenon can happen without us even realising it and the effect is often heightened when it comes to emotionally charged issues or deeply held beliefs. So, in business, this can be a real problem. Whilst we are less likely to encounter emotionally charged issues in a business environment, focusing on long held beliefs – even if they are incorrect – is a very real and potentially very severe issue. There are a few different manifestations of confirmation bias, and none of them are good.
The first one is a biased search for information. The way the Google algorithm works is that if you type in “is x better than y?” Google shows you sources claiming x is better than y, and vice versa. So, if you believe that one type of Facebook advert is better, and you Google it, you will see articles confirming what you already think. But this may not be true, and your biased search for information has possibly given you information that is incorrect, which could harm your marketing or business strategy.
The next form is biased interpretation. If you take two groups of people on opposite sides of an issue and give them the same information regarding the issue, they will interpret it differently, each saying that the evidence supports their point of view. Imagine how difficult it is to solve a business problem, if you already know what you want the solution to be and interpret conflicting evidence to support your way of thinking. You will never be able to find an effective solution, especially if the evidence suggests that deeply entrenched beliefs are not working.
And finally, there is biased memory. Let us say you have a business problem to solve, and you know what you want the answer to be. You read the evidence and can remember that it clearly states you were right. Selective memory may be playing a part. You might have read conflicting evidence, but simply cannot remember it.
Now, none of these confirmation biases are being done deliberately, it is not like you don’t want to find the correct answer. But it happens subconsciously. It is difficult to correct and could lead to you making the business decisions that you want to be right, not necessarily ones that actually are.
Often, the way to combat these biases is to force yourself to read other sources. Go outside your comfort zone, look for news outlets and opinion pieces that might give conflicting opinions about the issue. This way, you expose yourself to a wide range of ideas, which eventually, helps you overcome any biases.