Recognising and Overcoming Bias

You must think clearly to make good decisions. You can practice thinking clearly by recognizing when your thoughts are in some way biased.

Bias can distort thinking and compromise decisions. Three biases to watch out for are hindsight bias, confirmation bias and consistency bias.

Hindsight bias

This is the tendency to falsely believe you could have predicted a past event or result more accurately than you really could have. It causes you to misperceive past events and clouds your thinking about related problems in the future.

For example, if a colleague dismissed one of your ideas as unfeasible, you may look back and think she disapproved simply because she was in a bad mood that day, rather than because your idea was bad. You will go to her next week and present exactly the same idea again. The hindsight bias makes you overconfident in your ability to decipher outcomes.

Confirmation bias

This is the tendency to seek out and acknowledge evidence that confirms your beliefs while ignoring evidence is the opposite. For example, if all your market research suggests a proposed new product will fail, you may choose to ignore it because the product was your idea, and a couple of your friends said it sounded good.

Seeing support for your ideas everywhere and disagreement nowhere is not always helpful. You need to be flexible enough to reverse your opinion when necessary.

Consistency bias

The consistency bias leads you to maintain your inaccurate ideas even when there is evidence against them.

Consistency bias often arises because people feel a social pressure to keep their actions consistent — they fear being called hypocritical, contrary, or dishonest if they alter their views.

But altering your view is necessary if evidence suggests your initial view is wrong. You should always be on the lookout for potential reasons to revise your beliefs. Remain open-minded and test the new information first.

It is good to occasionally do a spot-check on your own thinking habits. Potential biases are the foundation of poor thinking. But if you spot and recognize these biases, you are one step closer to success.