Confirmation bias is killing your business

It seems that everyone nowadays wants to be an entrepreneurial innovator. The likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are the poster boys of our generation. And, leaders are demanding their teams to innovate or “we will likely die.”

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, blind to big ideas and opportunities (that aren’t their own), funding poor or otherwise suck any desire from team members to think differently and unlock their inner innovator. Even with all the‘it’s ok to fail’ rhetoric, hot-desking, design thinking training and collaboration workshops, for the vast majority, innovators they are not.

From our research, for many workers in big corporate and government the pressure to ‘innovate or die’ is creating increasing levels of change fatigue.

Change Fatigue has become a chronic problem facing corporate and government in today’s world of constant, concurrent and often competing changes. More

The view is that leaders are never satisfied, ever frustated that the efforts of their followers are not enough to survive and prosper. It is not that teams are anti-progress, just that often they have heard the leadership retoric before and too often it more deflates than empowers. “We are all working so hard, and we keep on getting told to do different, better, faster.” “Our leaders are ungrateful and continue to repeat the same mistakes again and again.”

I can recall a banking team workshop I facilitated when the CEO tried to empower his team with the line …

“We’ve got to mine that Gold”

… and other well rehearsed verse, upon leaving the room, the otherwise engaged team uttered …

“We didn’t sign up for this.”

Change for many means job insecurity, long hours, stress and little progress.

There are many reasons for such team frustration. At a base level, is that many do not seek a job in which they are required to be an innovator. They would prefer to simply do their job well, and go home.

If they wanted to be an entrepeneur, they would start a business of their own. Not give away a winning idea.

Innovators often possess the ‘sensation seeking’ personality trait. These are people hungering emotions, feelings and experiences that are varied, novel and intense and have an appite for physical, social, legal and financial risks for the sake of such experiences. There a good and not so good aspects of people with high sensation seeking appites (measure your’s here).

The positive side is an hunger for the heart of an entrepeneur, the unconventional, unstructured and uncertain. People with high levels of sensation seeking also seek new music, arts, travel and other exciting experiences. However, such people can also be prone to a desire for risky behaviours such as permissive sex, unsafe driving and partying like it’s 1999.

Those with a low level of sensation seeking are more likely to prefer safety, routine and well-defined tasks, jobs and employers. These people are likely not innovators, and more prevelent in society given psychological frameworks such as Maslow’s Hieracchy of Needs — i.e. people are typically underpinned by physiologogical needs (e.g. food, wate, shelter), then safety needs (e.g. security and safety).

Not everyone has a appetite for constant innovation, likely most do not.

Innovation comes from the top of any organisation, the potential entrepreneurs driving the corporate or government forward. However, too leaders are crippled with a bias that inhibs innovation.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek information that confirms existing views. Progress is often not made, as facts that contradict existing opinions are ignored. This can impact everything from an individual’s willingness to explore new perspectives to missing potential opportunities.

Businesses and government can get lost, replicating old rules and industry norms. Confirmation bias skews thinking towards affirming existing perceptions, rather than critiquing hypothesis or looking for alternatives.

Data is analysed internally 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. After they beleive that having worked in banking, government, retail or whatever their entire careers, means that know it better than anyone.

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.

Truely innovative leaders set hypothesis and aim to disprove rather than innately prove existing views. They allow for thinking approaches that offer a devil’s advocate input, diverse perspectives and counter arguements. They look beyond the category, geography and internal perspective. Avoiding data analytics that just confirm the status quo (intentionally or otherwise). Looking outwards, globally towards new data, patterns and trends.

Ultimately innovation and the heart of an entrepeneural business or government is about diversity of opinions and perspectives. Innovation cannot be forced or manufactured. It comes from avoiding leaders becoming entrenched in a sector and unable to see beyond their category. Yet, hiring teams with cultural, gender, sexual, education and attitude diversity.

This is where future innovation will come from. 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 team like it or not, successful entrepeurialism in coming decades will be driven by diversity within teams, thinking and imaginging 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 and sooner and change quicker. For the record, from our on-going community research the general consensus is that such topics are viewed as no longer worthy of debate, as they are well overdue and should just happen… pronto!

So, you want more!?

From me …

Introspection kills innovation

The beginner’s mind

From others …

Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter

Trying New Things. Why new experiences are so important to have

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