How To Guard Against Biases

When we come up against problems, we are sometimes tempted to jump to conclusions and make quick suggestions without careful thought. We are as guilty as anyone of harboring biases. As I have grown older and perhaps wiser, I have realized that I need to guard against a tendency to let my pre-conceived notions and predilections overrule reason. One rule that I have employed is to expose myself to opposing points of view.

This means listening to someone diametrically opposed to my/ our way of doing things or to our recommendations. As consultants, we are trained to work with data and with facts. This means we suspend judgment until we have hard data or evidence to support our case. Now this could be an estimate the car population in Coimbatore that would opt for high end detailing services that is required to build a business case, or the fraction of the population with annual household income above Rs. 5 lacs in a metro that would be consumers of edible oil to project brand sales. In every case, we have trained ourselves to look for data and close parallels to reduce the scope for judgmental error. Data has surprised us many a time.

The one danger even in working with data and facts is that we can tend to look selectively for facts that support our view while blocking out opposing pieces of information. There is also the danger of convenient extrapolation to get the facts to fit the conclusion we desire.

Analysis of competing hypotheses (ACH) - Analysisofcompeting_hypotheses is a powerful method to avoid these traps. While there is need for caution in using this, it certainly provides a useful framework for analysis.

In fact I think it would be good to expose students to the ACH technique to help them think through case studies and get them familiar with this before they step out into the world and have to deal with real issues. Such training could be invaluable in shaping thinking and eliminating biases