Friday, December 6, 2013

Authority and Confirmation Bias

Often people in authority only hear what they want to. It's because we get rewarded for making others happy. It's really hard to spend time around people who disagree. In fact, disagreeing with authority seems that it will only result in negative repercussions. This is a problem. Confirmation bias is we want to please people by confirming their ideas, or rather we want people to confirm our ideas. We are biased to agree that people with views like us have better, more credible, ideas than people who disagree with us. When I say that anyone who makes as much money as I do is rich, only a couple of people have actually agreed with me. Most either assume I make way more than they do or think that six figure income or $150k in annual income might be rich. It's always "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence" which means my neighbor must be rich, at least more rich than I am.

In electronics negative feedback loops typically create stability in an output and positive feedback loops amplify output. A stampede is a positive feedback loop, first five cows are running, then twenty cows running then 100 cows running, and the whole herd. A negative feedback loop is our ears, when something is too loud, we turn down the volume or move away from the speakers. In any endeavor to achieve perfection, negative feedback is necessary. Confirmation bias is positive feedback, and it is the reason why products sometimes end up flops, but senior management thinks it will be great, there was no negative feedback. I will not deny that negativity hurts, but we must seek it out to refine our weaknesses.

I do not know how to convey this forward in your life. Perhaps to say that honesty is important. The truth is more important than your honest opinion, which you likely believe to be the truth. It's a small distinction because often giving an honest opinion based on a limited number of facts is not telling the whole truth, the truth might not be totally known. However, not giving the honest, and negative, opinion only leads to confirmation bias. It is the reason people lead to ridiculous directions and conclusions.

Negativity is not fun, but we cannot be our best without it. Without recognizing the flaws we pretend to live in an imaginary world. There is no perfection. None of us are perfect, and no human made thing is perfect. That being said, I like the phrase, "it's perfect" because it sends the message that we did the best we could with the tools we had, it's really good, and for what it's purpose is, it fulfills the role exactly.

What take away advice is there from this: disagree with someone verbally or in writing the next time you disagree in your head. Maybe that person or those people have no idea of the flaw. You know things that no one else knows, that is what makes you unique. If you never share that unique information, we all lose out.

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