Confirmation Bias and Analyzing Data
In some shape or form, we all establish shorthand rules for our lives. Rules of thumb that help us automate regular processes so that we can worry about more novel problems. In business, we might call these best practices. However, if we’re not careful, the systems we develop to help us simplify our lives can become the foothold for confirmation bias.
Confirmation Bias: The tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.
These little rituals of simplification, better defined as heuristics, become habitual with repetition. Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman labeled this type of thinking as “System 1”. System 1 is home to intuitive thought and technical stereotyping. For example, red means stop, green means go, and a blue bag of chips is probably sea salt & vinegar.
The latter point was a sore spot for me. I was recently cooking lobster rolls and needed some chips to go with them. I went to the store and down the chip aisle that I am all too familiar with, went to my favorite brand and picked out the big blue bag, the salt and vinegar chips. Or so I thought.
Upon arriving at the destination, my sister unpacked the bag announcing to her kids “Mmmmmm. Salt & Pepper, I’ve never had these.” A minor setback but, wow, I was in shock. I went back to the store the next day to inspect this travesty of food packaging and they were virtually the same color as the correct bag.
This crunchy catastrophe inspired a few questions. What designer associated blue with cracked pepper? When they get their sales reports back, will their people interpret my mistaken purchase as validation? If the color blue can immediately activate my taste memory for those little bitter crisps, what other tricks is it pulling on me?
Tracking Patterns and Challenging Assumptions
Aside from creating efficiencies, we rely on heuristics to bring us predictive regularity. Normalcy and patterns keep us sane. But it also dulls us to unexpected findings. The more we rely on this regulation the harder it is to see the change coming.
We were doing an exploratory project a few weeks back with an amazing partner where our tech to identify the community driving the business and defining their product’s tone of voice. The results were fantastic and fun.
On the other hand, they also went totally against the assumptions of our partner. After a brief discussion it was clear what was happening. Our partner was so knowledgeable about their space that they inferred different results. They suffered confirmation bias.
Our company, Everyday, attracts the type of partners who challenge assumptions. In this way we’re lucky. We provided the data and our recommendations on how to proceed and our partner opened up to the opportunities of our findings and used them to better inform their customers.
Challenging though it may be, this is the path we all have to take if we actually want to drive change. Everyday technology isn’t the tool for the status quo. We’re the instrument to change it.