One of the great fallacies in life, is the confirmation bias – our tendency to interpret new information in ways that confirm our existing theories and beliefs. In our interview with Rolf Dobelli, he shared a simple example that not only heightened my awareness of the danger in such an approach, more importantly, it showed me why human beings make recurring mistakes. Consider this: A professor presented a group of students with the number sequence 2-4-6 and asked that they identify the next number in the sequence, and the underlying rule that governed this experiment. As the students suggested the next number, he would simply indicate whether it “fits the rule” or “does not fit the rule.”
As expected, most students suggested the number 8 as the next possible number, of which he replied: “fits the rule.” They followed that with the numbers 10,12,14; and again he replied: “fits the rule.” As logic would indicate, the students concluded that: “The rule is to add two to the last number” – and the professor shook his head and replied: “That is not the rule” – back to the drawing board.
A bit lost, one of the students tested out the number -2; and the professor said: “Does not fit the rule.” He then said the number 7; and when the professor, said that it “fits the rule” that particular student said: “The rule is this: The next number must be higher than the previous one.” The professor immediately replied by turning over a sheet of paper with those exact words. In business, the confirmation bias could be crippling, and that is why Boston Consulting Group senior advisors, Alan Iny and Luc De Brabandere will challenge you to stop thinking ‘outside the box.’ In their latest book, Thinking In New Boxes, they’ve designed a five step approach to allow you to see your business from a completely different vantage point, and it starts with you doubting everything.