Confirmation bias is killing your business

It seems that everyone nowadays wants to be an entrepreneurial innovator. But the reality is that very, very few people have the necessary skills and minds to offer any level of innovation. Even the few that do, the vast majority of their leaders are risk adverse, and blind to big ideas and opportunities that are not their own.

From our corporate and government research, for many workers the pressure to ‘innovate or die’ is creating increasing levels of change fatigue. They have heard the leadership innovation rhetoric for many years and too often it more deflates than empowers.

Those with an innovator’s mind often possess the ‘sensation seeking’ personality trait (measure your level of sensation seeking here). People with high levels of sensation seeking thrive for change, innovation, as well as new music, arts, travel and other exciting experiences. Those with a low level of sensation seeking are more likely to prefer safety, routine and well-defined tasks, jobs and employers, and are likely more prevalent in society given physiological frameworks such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — i.e. people are driven by physiologogical needs then safety needs. Not everyone in a team is a natural innovator, most are likely not.

Innovation comes from leaders. However, too often leaders are crippled with confirmation bias, the tendency to seek information that confirms existing views. Businesses and government can get lost, replicating old rules and industry norms. Confirmation bias skews thinking towards affirming perceptions, rather than critiquing hypothesis or looking for alternatives.

Data is analysed with likely unintentional bias, to confirm preconceived views that match the status-quo, category norm. Even external potentially unbiased perspectives, data, insights and opportunities are read with a filter revealing “nothing new,” which is likely less about the analysis and recommendations than leaders unable to think beyond what they wish to confirm.

Successful leaders accept the existence of confirmation bias and that innovation comes from the top not from forcing constant change and innovation. They appreciate that human nature is to seek evidence to reinforce pre-existing views and to prefer the safe and comfortable.

Ultimately the heart of an entrepeneurial business or government is about diversity of opinions and perspectives. Innovation comes from avoiding leaders becoming entrenched in a sector and unable to see beyond their category. And, hiring teams with cultural, gender, sexual, education and attitude diversity.

The new globally interconnected diverse world of 7.4 Billion people, belonging to 4,200 religions, speaking 7,099 languages and born in one of our 196 countries offers more opportunities than ever for those able to engage a diverse team. Rather than forcing and demanding constant change whether the team like it or not, successful entrepreneurialism in coming decades will be driven by diversity within teams, thinking and imagining better than ever before.

While ongoing conversations about marriage, gender and cultural equality are positive, my expectation is that in the not too distant future, we will look back in bewilderment at why we as a society did not get it sooner and change quicker. For the record, from our on-going community research the general concensus is that such topics are viewed as no longer worthy of debate, as they are well overdue and should just happen… PRONTO!

For a slightly longer read with bonus links about diversity, the value of trying new things, the beginners mind and introspection … click here!

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