If you value making good, sound decisions, less clouded by bias, read this book by Max Bazerman and Don Moore. Here’s one sentence that summarizes: We see what we want to see.
Now, that doesn’t cover the entire text. It’s packed with roughly 200 pages of decision-making goodness. There are a multitude of research-backed warnings that you are likely making decisions on some pretty faulty suppositions, such as these gems:
“People assess the frequency, probability, or likely causes of an event by the degree to which instances or occurrences of that event are readily available in memory.” (p. 7)
Let that first one settle in before moving on. If something is merely readily available in your memory (i.e., it happened recently), you are certain it’s going to happen again, or, at least, you think the likelihood of it happening again is good. Not because the percentages are in your favor, mind you, but simply because it just recently happened.
“When making a judgment about an individual (or object or event), people tend to look for traits an individual may have that correspond with previously formed stereotypes.” (p. 8)
The key snippet in that quote is of course “look for traits“. Meaning, we look for proof to convince ourselves that what we initially think is true or the right course of action, is in fact true or the right course of action.
“Most of our judgments are evoked by an affective, or emotional, evaluation that occurs even before any higher-level reasoning takes place.” (p. 9)
I threw that one in for you Malcom Gladwell-ites who shouted “YES!” every few pages while reading Blink.
“Many life decisions are affected by the vividness of information.” (p. 18)
This one might stand out as the obvious heuristic that we could all see coming, and yet we still fall prey to it. We remember (and base decisions on) past circumstances and situations that stand out to us — that are particularly “vivid” from an emotional and sensory standpoint.
“When we encounter information that is consistent with our beliefs, we usually accept it with an open mind.” (p. 29)
I said it early: we see what we want to see.
Decision making can be hard business. We can’t just wing our way through judgment calls, performance reviews, strategic planning exercises, our best approaches on closing a big deal.
We’ve got to think through these things and keep our biases in check.