Confirmation bias within Competitive Intelligence


This article takes a look at confirmation bias within Competitive Intelligence. When we are in the workplace or the pub after a game. Or even at a business networking lunch, we tend to seek people we have something in common with.

We love having connections in common. Like having gone to the same school or support the same team. Or come from the same area of the country or where you served in the military. Sharing stuff with people we have something in common with is part of our setup. It’s part of our human instinct. With this natural drive for familiarity, it mustn’t affect our decision making. Making decisions based on favouritism or a similar background is an unconscious bias.

Beware of bias

Within Competitive Intelligence analysis, it’s important that you are aware of bias in your thinking. The most common bias is confirmation bias. At it can be perilous. Isolating confirmation bias is important within Competitive Intelligence. Competitive Intelligence is very forward-looking. At least it should be. Intelligence analysts and forecasters have to be aware of confirmation bias. And make sure there are tools to help identify it.

Confirmation Bias finds evidence that confirms our perceptions and ignores any contrary information. It’s like a debating chamber where you have to support the subject’s view no matter what. So, each side prepares their arguments with facts and figures supporting their position. And you disregard or find fault with the opposing viewpoint, to win the debate. It’s looking for something you believe to be accurate, and you find what you believe to be true. This results in interpreting new evidence to confirm your existing beliefs and theories. Hopes or desires. We all have confirmation bias.

It can be dangerous

Confirmation bias make’s a tricky situation even worse because disregard others views. We dig our heels in. Then, to prove a point, we look for the information and evidence to justify our stance. To show we were right all along.

A classic example is the second invasion of Iraq. Weapons of Mass destruction. Saddam had them because he told the enemies he had them. He had used them in the past, and “that’s the sort of thing he does”. Also, for whatever reason, politicians wanted it to be true. So Intelligence was told to go and find the evidence. This request should be a big no-no within Intelligence. Because no matter how unpopular, the truth is the truth. And decision-makers can not influence Intelligence analysts. It’s raining and minus five outside. So putting on a summer dress or shorts because you want it to be sunny is foolish.

Saddam was not going to admit he had got rid of them because he needed to be seen as strong with his neighbours. They found one man who claimed Iraq had chemical weapons. And the rest is history and a very slippery unpleasant slide to where we are today in the Middle East and beyond.

New product

I am sure the same happens in your industry. Let’s say a team member has come up with an idea for new products and are convinced customers will love it. The market research is presented, and it all supports their view. When another team member offers insight that it won’t be successful, the idea originator dismisses the information out of hand.

Confirmation bias becomes apparent when talking about football teams or your favourite band. You can present any argument to say one team is bigger than the other. And while you may listen to the other side’s arguments, you still think your team is bigger. And yes, the obvious answer to this is question is usually Nottingham Forest…

To combat confirmation bias, review the insights you have on the subject in question. All of it. Every last bit. . Look for data that disproves your position and ask others to review your conclusions. And objectively review the pros and cons to ensure you make the best decision possible.

Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH)

Use tools like Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) to help isolate what could be going on. But the most significant tool is your mind. Deliberately ask yourself if I am experiencing confirmation bias in my thinking. Using ACH or other analysis tools to develop a standard system of evaluation for all new products, ideas, and decisions will put you in a stronger position to make the right decision. Based on all the available Intelligence. Without awareness of this bias, tools to tackle it and the Intelligence to back it up, we are subject to making decisions depending on our mood. Gut instinct and other highly subjective, and unconsciously influenced matters such as experience.

This article took a look at confirmation bias within Competitive Intelligence. When in the workplace, or the pub after a game. Or even at a business networking lunch, look out for confirmation bias in your and others’ behaviour. It’s everywhere.

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