Decision Making and Confirmation Bias

If you have ever been to Disney World, you know what a magical place it can be. Your favorite childhood characters come to life.  There is amazement and wonder around every corner.  Every ride is filled with abundant imagination to make even the most jaded adult feel like a kid again.

At least that’s how I remember it.

But the truth is, if most parents actually kept a blow-by-blow journal of a day at Disney, it would also be filled with tales of $9 corn dogs, kids having meltdowns in the middle of Adventure Land, and weather that makes you feel like you’re camping in a pro wrestler’s armpit.

But we forget about that.  While this kind of selective attention can be great for building family memories, it can be devastating to businesses. 

Consider the case of Thomas W. Lucas, Jr., a con artist who used forged documents and recycled artists renderings to trick people into believing he had inside information regarding a proposed Disney theme park in Dallas.  All told, he swindled over $60 million in funds from a group of savvy investors wanting to get in on the ground floor of something big.  Unfortunately, their focus on the positive possibilities and potential riches blinded them to contrary information that, in hindsight, makes the whole plan seem laughable.

The phenomenon these investors experienced is called Confirmation Bias, and it happens to even the most well-meaning people.  We become so laser-focused on the validity of our plans and decisions that we seek out information to support them, while simultaneously ignoring trouble spots.  This gives us a false sense of confidence, leading us to commit to potentially devastating actions.  Here’s how to prevent it.

  1. Ask “Why Not?” – If you are a leader, specifically ask your direct reports to articulate drawbacks when you propose new products, projects or policies.  In exploring the adverse consequences, identify alternatives that might accomplish your original objective AND overcome the potential challenges.
  2. Take A Balanced Approach – When assessing your area of concern, utilize a tool like Force Field Analysis which forces you and your team to examine an issue from both a positive and negative perspective.
  3. Assign a Devil’s Advocate – Western culture places a high value on social conformity to build cohesive teams.  For this reason, many people see dissension as a potential CLM (Career Limiting Move).  To improve team decision making, rotate the role of Devil’s Advocate, which makes it the job of a particular team member to identify contrary evidence and argue against the prevailing wisdom.

At Action Management, we have been helping clients improve their decision making for nearly forty years.  We are experts in teaching tools and techniques for improved decision making, problem solving, and implementation.  If you would like tips on avoiding your own “Disney Disaster,” just give us a call at 800-386-5611.  We would love to help!

















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