How many times have you heard the old saying, “I knew that was going to happen!”
Chances are, probably a lot.
You’re watching the finish of a sailboat race with your friends. You place a bet on who will win, and decide to root for the underdog: a tiny red sailboat about thirty places back from the lead. Suddenly, a gust of wind helps the boat pick up speed, and before you know it, the tiny red sailboat crosses the finish line in first place! You shout, “I knew that was going to happen!” But how could you have known?
You didn’t, of course. You’re not a fortune teller. But rather, you’re a victim of what’s known as Hindsight Bias. This “I-knew-it-all-along” phenomenon refers to a tendency (think bias) to overestimate our ability to correctly predict event outcomes. In our desire to explain events that align with our beliefs, that puts us in a good light, we may fall victim to the Hindsight Bias.
Let’s imagine another scenario, this time in the workplace.
You’re about to pitch a new project to a client. But the night before, you forget to practice your proposal. The next day, you stumble over main points, causing your client to get cold feet. Your boss decides you’re not the right fit for the project and dismisses you. You tell yourself, “They were never going to like my proposal, even if my pitch had gone perfectly.” You convince yourself that the negative outcome was inevitable. And in fact, you tell yourself that you didn’t practice the night before because you “knew” it would be a waste of your time.
Hindsight Bias can cause us to blame others instead of taking responsibility. And thus can prevent us from recognizing and learning from our mistakes. Combat this tendency and other unconscious biases by challenging yourself to practice mindful engagement! Ask yourself: Am I rationalizing the situation after the fact based on its outcome? What relevant perspectives could I be missing out on? How can I learn from past mistakes?
By recognizing the human brain’s tendency to be overconfident in predicting outcomes and rationalizing after the fact, you and your organization can transition into asking, “What are the multiple plausible explanations for this outcome?” instead of assuming, “I/we knew that would happen!”
How can/does Hindsight Bias impact after the fact explanations of outcomes? How might Hindsight Bias influence decision-making?
In what way could Hindsight Bias hinder inclusion and diversity in your organization with respect to hiring and promotion?
And remember: be less certain, and be more curious!