One of the most challenging biases to overcome is confirmation bias. To address this, you can look to information sources that might seem unrelated at first, but can provide valid underlying concepts that might challenge your assumptions. You can also talk to outsiders in order to test that your information will hold up under scrutiny.
Easier said than done, sometimes. Some will have the good intentions of addressing confirmation bias by reaching out to people and resources outside of their immediate circle.
But most of the time, this is not good enough.
There are a number of reasons for this. Even if the people who you reach out to do not have intimate knowledge of the subject matter, they might know you well enough to tell you what they think you’d like to hear. Even if you access data that you don’t typically reach for, these information sources may be adjacent enough to reinforce some of your assumptions and not surface those more sinister, lingering aspects of bias.
Addressing confirmation bias by expanding information sources is a practice that you cultivate over time.
Through some general networking, I spoke with someone trying to marry his business degree with his passion in music.
I do not have a business degree, nor do I know anything about the music industry.
However, I came across an article published today in the HBR which discussed how big companies (read: well established firms with stodgy reputations) are strategically using scouting to understand emerging technology and determine whether and how they want to leverage it. The article mentions nothing about the trendy music scene, and instead, conjures images of banking, finance, and other traditional business sectors.
Yet I sent it to my new contact, wondering out loud if the traditional music labels have internal innovation teams whose job is to not just catch up with the changes in the industry, but get ahead of the next earth-shattering change. They might have scouts for talent, but do they have scouts for innovative platforms?
If not, maybe he should suggest it to them.
Develop relationships with very, very different people and expose yourself to very, very different information sources.
I have another example. I recently read a book about investing written by Carl Richards called The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money.
I’m not a big investor, nor do I have any interest in hearing (yet another) someone’s opinions about money management. But I am interested in simple ways for people to behave in a way that better serves their goals.
Could I have gone to a psychology or self-help book information sources? Yes. Have I done so in the past? Yes. But Richards’ book presented ways that I might be able to simplify concepts for my clients. For example, I can simplify how one’s values should the driving force behind decision-making, rather than obligation.
Powerful stuff, and not from a typical source.
The more you expand your information sources, the less likely you are to fall into a confirmation bias trap. Expand your circles of influence, of people, of content, of geography. Engage in this expansion regularly, as a practice, and you’ll find that confirmation bias is less of a problem. As a side benefit, creativity flourishes.