We like to see ourselves as arbiters of absolute truth or at least infallible points of view. In reality we’re shockingly biased toward our existing beliefs. In case you’re wondering that’s called confirmation bias. All things considered it’s sort of surprising we ever get anything right.
Think that’s not true? Did reading it immediately conjure the words “not me” in your head? I rest my case.
Nobody wants to admit they’re biased but none of us are as objective as we think we are. Even with undeniable facts staring us straight in the face, we will cite the most inane talking points as evidence that we’re right and everyone else is full of it.
Now more than ever we live in carefully constructed ideological echo chambers that reflect our own beliefs and reject anything that doesn’t fit the narrative.
Last week AOC and a bunch of left-wing activists (WaPo’s words, not mine), politicians and union organizers killed Amazon’s planned HQ2 in New York over tax incentives. Then they took a victory lap in classic “cut off your nose to spite your face” style. And the progressive masses ate up their talking points (I’d call it red meat but, well, you know).
Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world. https://t.co/nyvm5vtH9k
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 14, 2019
Why am I not surprised? I just spent the better part of three days in a futile attempt to convince people they’ve been sold a bill of goods by a bunch of socialist zealots out to make a name or at least a political career for themselves, only to be met with one nonsensical objection after another.
Of course it makes sense to kill 50,000 $150,000 a year jobs and $27 billion in projected revenue over a lousy $3 billion in incentives. Never mind that those incentives were only there to partially offset ultra-high taxes and an unholy alliance between corrupt politicians and trade unions that make NY the most expensive place to build anything on Earth.
When I tried to explain the big financial picture, the 10x ROI and all that to one guy he replied, “Seattle fell for that too.” I guess Microsoft and Amazon really pulled one over on Seattle, didn’t they? Of course it sucks to be one of the biggest software / technology hubs in the world. Yup, New York really dodged a bullet on this one.
This goes far beyond politics. Confirmation bias is so much a part of our lives it isn’t funny. I was recently reminded of some French guy’s psych PhD thesis where he had 54 students taste white wine and the same white wine dyed red side by side. They all reported nonexistent red wine characteristics. Every single one.
Remember how Payless pranked 60 fashion influencers into paying $500 for shoes that retailed for like $30. “I can tell it was made with high-quality material,” said one VIP. “It’s stunning. Elegant, sophisticated,” said another, describing a pair of Palessi (get it, pa-less-i) shoes – a fake luxury brand created by Payless for the elaborate scam. (Coincidentally Payless just filed for bankruptcy — again. Maybe they should have gone with the Palessi model.)
Consumers will rave about their favorite brands while ignoring everything that doesn’t reflect their biased beliefs. Many Tesla fanatics waited years for their Model 3, paid far more than they originally thought they would and now have to put up with weeks-long waits for service. Bet you won’t hear a peep out of the Tesla faithful though.
Finally, confirmation bias can be particularly troubling in a business setting. In my experience it’s probably the number one cause of leadership failure. So if you’re the kind of business leader who doesn’t like to be questioned and thinks he’s always right, you damn well better be. If not, lookout below.
Image credit Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr