This week’s focus: I don’t need to remind my UK-based readers that the country took part in last week’s European Parliamentary elections. As the results came in they were immediately used by each of the main parties to support their own particular views on Brexit. So, while The Brexit Party and the Conservatives used the results to suggest that the people wanted politicians to get on with delivering a clear Brexit, the same results were taken by the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish National Party and others as proof that there was an underlying majority of people in favour of remaining in the EU.
The politicians of all sides were exhibiting confirmatory bias: a tendency to interpret information that confirms your existing preconceptions. Confirmatory bias is not limited to politics. It exists in all areas of our lives, including business.
I once ran a new store development trial in London, for example, that saw immediate sales growth of 20%. I wanted and genuinely believed that the growth was due to our new store innovations and ideas. After all, we are brilliant retailers I told myself! It was a only while later that I reluctantly conceded that the opening of a new office block at the same time as the start of the trial had perhaps made a big impact on the store’s trading performance!
The risk of confirmatory bias is that you make poor decisions. Unfortunately, you can’t completely cure yourself of this condition. Instead, all you can do is become more aware, ensure that you review your results with some skepticism and that you allow and encourage alternative assessments from more independent analysts and observers.
Sir John Curtice, the UK’s pre-eminent psephologist, said that the only thing about Brexit that could be deduced from last week’s election results was that there is no majority in the population for any particular form of the UK’s departure (or non-departure) from the EU. The country remains as divided as ever. Whether any of the politicians are listening to his analysis is another matter.
But what about you? How are you ensuring that your own beliefs and preconceptions aren’t blinding you to the reality of the management information that you review? And how are you ensuring that your decisions are based on real insight and not just biased, wishful thinking?
Off The Record: Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again!
© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.