Confirmation bias, what is it and why is it important?
Confirmation bias is described as the tendency for people to favour information or arguments that coincide with their own beliefs or hypotheses. There is also a tendency for people to select only evidence that supports their position and to accept ambiguous evidence in a positive light.
Social experiments including those conducted by Stanford University have shown that individuals, rather than evaluating each position logically, tend to favour their own viewpoint and can even convince themselves that their position is right in the face of insurmountable logical evidence that they are not correct.
I am sure that by now you are starting to see where I am going with this, how many people do you know in IT that fall into the description above. In particular I am thinking of those that fall into the Cisco, VMWare, Oracle camps. Many of the professionals I know and have worked with don’t even consider alternative products and can’t see any benefits in moving away from what they consider are the only choice.
Lets have a brief aside here, Adolf Hitler we all agree was a bad man, in fact some would describe him as the epitome of evil. No redeeming features whatsoever? Well he was a fantastic orator, a charismatic leader and he really loved children. We all feel a bit uneasy recognising these qualities in this man so what we tend to do is just focus on the bad and leave out the good qualities. Don’t think I am making excuses for Hitler, just using him as an example.
It’s the same when we look at VMWare, you’ve all heard it by now, ‘industry leading product’, ‘nothing comes close’, ‘crazy to pick anything else’. If you suggest looking at Hyper-V then you hear, ‘not mature’ ‘not ready for the enterprise’ you don’t hear about how much less it costs, how the licensing model is less convoluted, how well it integrates into a Microsoft enterprise, in short none of the good points and only the bad. Confirmation bias.
The consequences of this can lead to:
- Overconfidence in the selected product and its performance.
- Failing to identify and adopt the right product for the job.
- Spending more money than required – ‘the no one got fired for buying IBM’
- Failing to keep up with emerging technology, falling behind.
- Fostering a culture of ignorance and conservatism.
Have a look around next time your at work, ask yourself some serious questions. Do I really evaluate objectively or am I biased, can I be proved wrong and accept it? If not them you could be confirming your own bias and falling into the closed mindset that is prevalent in many IT departments. It is ironic that a profession that focuses on advancing technology sometimes has the hardest task in embracing different ways of doing things and adopting different hardware and software.