You’re sitting at your desk working away. Outside your office window, the sun is shining and it’s a gorgeous 82 degrees. The weather forecast predicts blue skies and high temperatures all week long. Time to celebrate the summer weather with a relaxing trip to the beach! You make a plan for a Saturday get-away with the family. All week long you check the weather, smiling at the little row of sunshine symbols in your Weather App.
Sun tan, here you come.
Saturday morning arrives - this is it! You slip on your sandals and pack the beach chairs into the car. You’ve waited all week for this. You look outside your window and...oh no! You see some dark clouds looming on the horizon. But they predicted sun! You think back to those little sunshine symbols and say to yourself, “I’m sure it’ll pass right by!” So, you get the family in the car and head off to the beach. You’re cruising with the windows down when little water droplets start hitting the windshield.
Beach day over.
So why did you decide to drive to the beach even after you saw those dark clouds? Research suggest that your reaction - and the reason you ignored that new evidence, is incredibly common! In fact, it highlights the decision-making bias known as conservatism bias. Conservatism bias happens when we rely too heavily on original, pre-existing information and we under-react to new and potentially important information. In the beach day example, you failed to heed the warning of those dark thunder clouds. Initial evidence said sun, so you were prepared for sun! You ignored the new evidence and drove to the beach anyway. Let’s face it, you didn’t want to believe the beach day was a lost cause!
Research suggest that it’s tricker for our brains to take on new ideas when they contradict a pre-existing viewpoint and that our brains are slow to process new information. Cognitive bias, in general, stems from how the human brain has evolved over time. In fact, errors in processing and analyzing information probably arose to help primitive humans survive in a world before money or finance. Can you imagine?!
But what does conservatism bias look like in a world with money and finance?
Let’s take this to the workplace.
Imagine you have an employee who hasn’t been doing so great. Their numbers have consistently dropped over the past quarter and it’s starting to impact the health of the company. It feels only natural when the thought to fire them enters your mind.
Now let’s say it’s the end of the week. You’re sipping on your Friday afternoon pick-me-up coffee and reviewing employee numbers from the last 5 days. You see that the employee who has been struggling to keep up demonstrated an increase in performance over the past week. Nonetheless, you decide to go with your original instinct and figure it best to let them go.
But wait! You’re heading right down the path of conservatism bias! You’re basing your decision on past information, without letting new knowledge shape your decision.
So does combating conservatism bias mean you have to keep the employee in the company? Not necessarily! But it’s important to make potential new information a factor in your decision-making process.
In forward-thinking and inclusive organizations, new data and ideas must be carefully assessed to determine value, especially in decision-making situations! Trying to decide if you should continue investing in a project? Be sure to react to the latest possible data without letting previous numbers cloud your thinking. Just because something was true in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true in the present or future!
It’s certainly not always easy to combat these biases, but it is attainable through practicing mindful engagement! And it’s never too late to start.
Remember, be less certain and be more curious!