The Big Mistake That Smart People Make

How a common behavior can ruin your business; and how you can overcome it

We all can be this guy sometimes. Here's how to overcome it!

We all can be this guy sometimes. Here’s how to overcome it!

Have you ever been around people who live in an echo chamber? The type of person who only watches news that supports his beliefs, disregards opinions that do not match hers? The type of person who surround themselves with yes-men who never question their opinions?

Here’s the truth, we all tend to behave this way to some extent. It’s a hard-wiredirrational human tendency to filter incoming information in a biased way so it confirms our pre-existing belief systems.

This phenomenon is called Confirmation Bias; it’s a well-known psychological inclination. And studies show that smart people are particularly prone to Confirmation Bias.  Without realizing it we have the tendency to notice or accept information that supports our current world views; this of course means we don’t notice information that conflicts with our views.

The Confirmation Bias makes people unable to imagine other view points

The Confirmation Bias makes people unable to imagine other view points

This phenomenon is most obvious during the political season. Friends who hold opposing political views find themselves genuinely shocked that their friend could be so duped. The day after election day, half of the country is walking around in shock that their candidate lost, asking themselves, “How could this happen?”  Without the Confirmation Bias, the cable news outlets would be out of business. (Tweet it)

Confirmation bias makes people overly confident, less likely to question their ideas, and live in an echo chamber of their own beliefs.

Why should this matter to you? Because Confirmation Bias can cause professionals to make mistakes.

Common Mistakes Caused by the Confirmation Bias

  1. Missing Opportunies- Confirmation Bias prevents you from being adaptable If you can’t see beyond your own assumptions, you might miss red flags as well as growth opportunities. (Source)
  2.  Wasting Money- Confirmation Bias can result in outdated models and keep you thinking inside the box. If you believe that those television ads are the best use of your ad budget, you keep buying the spots. (Source)
  3. Lack of Foresight- Confirmation Bias might result in missing the chance to react proactively to potential catastrophes, thus leaving you left to only react to the crisis. Differing information is often seen as a threat and often ignored out of fear.  (Source)
  4. Making Less Rational Decisions- Succumbing to the Confirmation Bias, even unconsciously, makes us more likely to make decisions based on emotions. Researchers concluded that “skilled arguers are not after the truth, but after arguments supporting their views.” Ouch.

Feeling bummed after reading how the Confirmation Bias messes us all up?

Don’t worry…

Good news starts now

5 Ways to Overcome Confirmation Bias

  1. Be aware it exists. Understanding your inclination towards a particular thought process can help you recognize it when it happens. Just like I’m aware of my own tendency to work too much, I also try to be conscious of my tendency to fall for the confirmation bias.
  2. Make a conscious decision to challenge any of your preconceptions. From a political stance to your favorite color…spend time turning around issues in your head and play devil’s advocate. Question your ideas. Instead of assuming your next business project is brilliant, actually test your ideas.
  3. Make decisions empirically. That gut instinct serves you very well, but when important decisions are in front of you, default to the data. Trust (your gut), but verify (with data).
  4. Get an outside opinion with no personal vested interest in the outcome. Like hard and fast data, a neutral opinion can be an eye-opener. This is a huge reason business consultants are brought in to help teams make the right decisions. A business consultant‘s opinion should not be clouded by a vested interest in specific outcomes, the focus should be on what is the best business decision for the company.
  5. Be open to opinions that disagree. And by that I mean allow others to disagree with you; nothing fosters Confirmation Bias more than surrounding yourself with yes-men. Sometimes the most successful people suffer confirmation bias the most because they are never challenged. You don’t want to be the CEO who becomes the emperor who has no clothes. As they say in the South- Never let yourself get too big for your britches.


Now you know that not only does everyone succumb to this, but smart people tend to be especially prone to the Confirmation Bias, you are light years ahead of everyone else.  And you have an action plan to battle this behavior so it won’t have  negative consequences in your life or your business.

My challenge to you is that you don’t just read this and forget it, but you work to build a system to help keep you on track. Maybe you schedule a meeting with yourself once a month to revisit the topic and examine your habits. Maybe you discuss this topic with your mastermind group or your business coach and work to build in a practice of battling bias to help you achieve success. It’s not sexy, but habit and repetition are the two secrets to real change. (Tweet it!Make battling the Confirmation Bias a habit and repeat it often.

Now it's your turn

If you liked this article please share it with your friends. Everyone needs a refresher on battling their biases. (Especially people who disagree with you…. Ha!… I kid, I kid… See what I did there?)

 Here are some Tweets that are ready for you to use-

Instead of fighting for how things should be, look for what could be. (Tweet this!)

How the Confirmation Bias makes smart people make mistakes (Tweet it!)

Ever wondered the reason smart business leaders don’t see obvious danger signs? Confirmation Bias. (Tweet it!)

“Skilled arguers are not after the truth, but after arguments supporting their views.” (Tweet it!)

What is the common tendency that makes smart leaders less rational and more prone to failure? Find out now! (Tweet it!)


PS- If you are thinking that you probably don’t have an issue with Confirmation Bias, and it’s other people who do, well, that’s a common bias as well. Most people believe they couldn’t possibly behave in an irrational way like 99.9999% of people.  Ouch… That one stings a little as it sinks in, eh? I know, it did for me, too. xo

  • Jen Welton

    Unfortunately, there are several areas in my life that I could see this bias pop up. It’s when I get lazy. I need to put it on my calendar to come back to often so it doesn’t get out of my reach. It’s worth it!

  • Alli Worthington

    Smart, Jen. Yep, this is one of those topics that makes us all squirm a bit but has to be brought it up. My strategy is that I have 3 people who stay on me and challenge me to question everything I do. It works, but it’s no walk in the park. Ha! :)

  • AlyciaN

    My only .02 is from personal experience. I had an idea and because I worried about my bias nature, I pitched it to some without a vested interest in the outcome, because that’s what smart people do, right?

    The outcome was realizing that even though it is smart to poll the audience, you need to make sure the audience speaks the same language or you are doomed (not like voted off the island or shipped to Siberia, but when you have a failed idea it’s kinda the same thing) For instance you have a great idea for a whizmo to help people with blond curly hair, but if you pitch it to stick straight brunettes, you are bound for Siberia.

    Reach outside your bias, but also understand that your naysayers may just not speak the same language.

  • Stephanie McCratic

    It is quite tough being an ego maniac with low self-esteem. There are days when I am appalled that anyone would dare to think my ideas are less than brilliant, and then there are days when I see brilliance all around me and wonder when the others will figure out I’m a phony.

  • Alli Worthington

    Yes, Stephanie. That’s the problem with being human. ;) At least we know that most of us go through the exact same things. It’s quite comforting knowing we’re not alone in the idiosyncrasies we tend to hide.

  • Alli Worthington

    Great point, Lady!

  • Steve Woodruff

    Thank you for confirming me in my confirmation bias, Alli. That’s why I’m friends with you – you reinforce me in my oh-so-correct opinions. Especially about that other 99.9999%… ;>}

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