Jan 18 2024

Fighting Confirmation Bias

I was mentoring a first time founder the other day who asked me, “How do you know what advice to follow and what advice not to follow?” (For the record, it’s a little ”meta” to answer that question!). I talked about looking for patterns and common themes in the advice from others and exercising judgment about how to pick and choose from competing pieces of advice. But then he asked me how I fight confirmation bias when I’m exercising judgment and incoming advice.

Fighting confirmation bias is both incredibly important and incredibly difficult, and I’d never articulated my thoughts on that before, so I thought I’d do that here.

The way you have to train yourself to fight confirmation bias is to develop a routine or muscle around receiving a piece of advice that you don’t like. While the normal response is to dismiss it or argue against it, the muscle you have to build is to react to advice you don’t like by taking a beat and asking yourself, “Why don’t I like this advice?”

Is it that you think it’s factually wrong or is given on incomplete information? Is that it just disagrees with your world view? Or is it that you just hope it’s not true because it would mean bad things for you or your company? If it’s the latter, or something like it, it’s time to sit down and analyze the advice in the context of the question you asked. What happens if it is true? Why would it be true?

Under the headline of “hope is not a strategy,” doing that work gets you to a better place, because it’s in that work, in pausing to answer the question “Why don’t I like this advice,” that the hard work of fighting confirmation bias happens.