What Holiday Traditions Reveal About Confirmation Bias (And 3 Ways to Avoid It at Work)

Article | Accountability Insights

by | Jan 5, 2018

While it is important to stay the course and remain consistent with your Key Results, adapting to unforeseen changes during the year can often be the difference between success and failure.

Read the original article published on Inc. Magazine:  How Holiday Traditions Can Have a Dangerous Effect on Decision-Making

Confirmation bias abounds during the holiday season. Traditions are a staple of the holidays, for better or worse, and whichever holiday you celebrate, confirmation bias can impact you-;often in interesting ways.

If you ask a child whether Santa exists, for example, he or she will fall into one of two camps, vehemently defending for or against a position. If you ask your great aunt if people love her fruitcake, she might also have some confirmation bias at play, too.

This week, we observed two kids affirming their confirmation bias  when they spotted something curious about Buddy, a stuffed elf that the parents may or may not move around every night to convince the children that he is real.

“I think Buddy’s arms are glued together,” the five-year-old observed one morning. “Also, his clothes are sewn onto his hands.” There was a moment of silence as her older brother examined the new evidence. But then, her older brother brushed it off, reassuring his sister: “That’s probably just a trick to make us think he’s not real.”

This was enough to quell all the younger child’s doubts, and both kids went about their day with their belief about their magical elf intact.

How Confirmation Bias Blinds Us – Kids and Adults Alike

Why did these children hold onto their belief about their elf even when presented with strong evidence that he is nothing but a fabricated toy?

Confirmation bias.

Neither child was ready to relinquish the joy that Buddy infuses into the holiday, from hand-scribbled notes to crafts to small treats that he leaves every night. There’s great payoff to holding this belief, and blinded by bias, they interpreted new facts to support their belief.

Confirmation bias-;or belief bias-;is at play at a very young age. However, it doesn’t just occur during the holidays or on the playground. And while childhood fantasies might be a natural part of human development, there are times when belief bias can cause us harm. Belief bias can make people blind, and not just to reality but to opportunity and innovation as well.

Belief bias shows up in organizations small and large, every single day. We have a belief that a new process we put into place six months ago is going to work, even if all the evidence, facts, and figures contradict our assumptions.

Here are three notable examples of belief bias that blinded people (grown adults, no less) to new opportunities:

  • Steve Ballmer had his own belief bias at play when he famously said in 2007, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”
  • An anonymous publishing executive had belief bias when he responded to J.K. Rowling pitch of Harry Potter by saying, “Children just aren’t interested in wizards and witches anymore.”
  • And Time Magazinepublished in 1966 that, “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop.”

Here are three tips to avoid belief bias so you don’t miss opportunities in your life and at work:

1. Seek learning

One of the biggest mistakes we can make in life is to stop learning. We need to continually learn and expand our minds and perspectives by reading new books, listening to TED Talks or podcasts, and having conversations with people who see the world differently than we do. It’s true that the moment you stop learning is the moment you stop living.

2. Seek feedback

Seeking feedback from those around you and even those outside your comfort zone can help expand your viewpoint. Be open to feedback and new perspectives.

3. Embrace differences

Embracing opportunities to learn, grow, develop, and view differences in a positive light expands your viewpoint. This is how you learn to see beyond your current limitations-;a critical skill to help you avoid belief bias.

Unlike the holiday season where confirmation bias shows up year after year, confirmation bias in organizations shows up every single day. The next time you hear the response, “That’s the way we’ve always done it around here,” step back and make sure that confirmation bias isn’t at play. Learning new things, seeking feedback, and embracing differences allows you to combat your own biases and achieve results you never thought possible. This is something to celebrate not only during the holidays, but all year long!