When it comes to doing research and validating your innovations, be careful that you aren’t unconsciously suffering from confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is a bias that most of us suffer from, and is the tendency for you to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports your prior beliefs or values.
Simply put: we want to find information that proves that we were right all along.
This is because it may feel safer to know that what you believe is correct, since if you find information which shows you were wrong, this could mean you are at risk, or other people would be less likely to trust you in the future.
There are three major ways that confirmation bias is expressed:
- Biased search for information
- Biased interpretation of information
- Biased memory recall of information
It is especially prevalent in situations where people are seeking data to prove an idea or hypothesis is right, such as in scientific research and innovation projects.
For example, a 1977 experiment found that scientists much prefer experiments which would prove that their hypothesis was right, rather than the more valuable experiments which might show that their hypothesis is wrong (this data would have allowed them to find out why, and to improve it).
A 2001 study also showed that people who have already made a decision (so have a set view or opinion on a subject) will seek out information which confirms this view.
Some people have likened confirmation bias to a sort of “Yes-Man” of the brain, which wants to agree with the prevailing opinion in the brain.
What makes this especially dangerous is that if you only look for and believe information which confirms what you believe, you can get stuck in an echo chamber and ignore things which are required to improve.
Even worse, you might not want to believe information which is required to not only improve your current offering, but save it from being disrupted or preventing it from being successful.
Many previously great companies have fallen because management did not want to hear bad news.
This is often a real challenge for innovation teams, who want to see if there is demand for their idea. So often, they only look for positive signals that there is demand, such as by asking if people “like the idea” (hoping of course that they will say yes).
They do not put in similar effort to find out why people are not interested in their innovation, which in the long run is far more valuable information.
So if you ever find yourself constantly noticing how good your ideas are, ask yourself whether you are only looking for information which confirms that is true.
It might be time to get some information confirming if the opposite could be true as well.