Confirmation bias—seeking and interpreting evidence partially so as to support one’s beliefs—is so destructive that it can render your analysis useless. And chances are, you are a victim of it.
Raymond Nickerson, a psychology professor at Tufts University, found evidence of confirmation bias in a number of disciplines. (His 1998 paper published in the Review of General Psychology is both enlightening and sobering: citing hundreds of sources, he makes a compelling argument that confirmation bias is everywhere.)
Chances are, you are solving the wrong problem.
Nothing personal, dear reader, as I wholeheartedly trust your instincts and impeccable judgement, but it happens to the best of us.
We all solve the wrong problem
Case in point: I’ve coached over 200 people to solve complex problems in the past five years. Not a single one decided, after thinking for a couple of weeks about the problem they brought, that their original formulation was the right one. Not one.
Working for Accenture had its ups and downs, but one great, great up was a simple idea: help others be successful.
Thinking about it after so many years, there are a couple of instances that stem out:
Decision making is a critical part of the problem-solving process. But it is also only that: a part. The process has several others; don’t overlook some at the expense of others. (This post is a summary of a guest article I did for Weighted Decision Matrices, the original is available here.)
The resolution process of CIDNI problems is sequential, with decision making appearing only within the third step. A decision matrix can be useful to decide between various competing solutions, but that decision is only as good as the ground work that prepared it.
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Integrate decision making into your overall problem-solving approach
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My good friend and mentor, stochastic processes über-guru Pol Spanos, has many wise sayings. One is: intuition is a good servant but a terrible master.
Check your assumptions
A recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academies looks further into this and notes that “intuition can be a good tool when: (1) the environment is predictable (so what happened previously is a good predictor of what will be likely to happen again); and (2) the person has had the “opportunity to learn the regularities of the environment” through repeated exposure and feedback.” Unfortunately, these conditions hardly ever exist. So you should know how to use your intuition.