As humans, we accept as truth the things we believe and reject the things we don’t. Most of us call this wishful thinking. Psychology Today calls it the direct influence of desire on beliefs. As a result, we are basing many of our decisions on interpretations instead of facts. Scientists call it confirmation bias, and all of us are susceptible to it. To keep from having to confront information that contradicts our opinions, we seek only that which agrees with us and deny that which doesn’t. According to Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, confirmation bias occurs “when you have an interpretation, you adopt it, and force everything to fit that interpretation.” Most of us know that once people reach a conclusion, they aren’t likely to change their minds, even in the face of new evidence. So if we are prone to take a position first and then to defend it, a wise strategy is to delay taking a position until we have gathered enough facts to make a well-informed decision. A good model might be Justitia, the Roman Goddess of Justice. Her scales represent the balance between support and opposition. Her blindfold represents objectivity.
Here are a few things we can do:
- Always begin by challenging our assumptions, especially our dearest ones.
- Ask better questions of ourselves. Why do we think this way? What are our assumptions, beliefs, and facts? How can we tell which is which?
- Actively seek disagreement. The best way to find contradictory information is to look in more and different places.
- Learn to spend at least as much energy tearing down our own arguments as we do building them up.
- Develop our positions slowly, after collecting real evidence. Suppress our instinct to jump to conclusions.
Better organizations provide one fact base for all to use, and the official interpretation thereof. That way, we all share the same set of facts and interpretations. The best organizations put them in writing and refer to them often, and candle all recommendations back against them.