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Brain Circuits

Battling your own bias

IbyIMD+ Published 18 October 2022 in Brain Circuits • 3 min read

Most of us, at some point, have been introduced to the famous quote by Socrates: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” But even with centuries of guidance to try to overcome confirmation bias, we all at some point succumb to it. Confirmation bias is particularly limiting when we are solving complex problems. Although it is unlikely we will ever rid ourselves of our biases (there is a mountain of evidence that shows this is a tall order), there are some things we can do to manage our biases.

The exercise

For today’s exercise, first take a moment and think about the last time you were really wrong about something. Think about what you believed was getting in the way of seeing things clearly. Now, with that in mind, consider the following things you can do with the next complex problem you need to address.

First, think about the problem and identify the solution you currently think is best. Then, try these steps:

Get help. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to spot someone else’s biases? This is true for everyone. If you are open to asking people, especially those with a different perspective, they can help you spot your own. This is one of the reasons diversity is such a benefit to your team, but only if you take advantage of it.

Imagine alternatives. If you are grappling with a complex problem and find yourself consistently leaning towards one solution, take a minute and force yourself to come up with some different solutions. Write them down. Really take the time to invest in some other answers. It may force you to view the situation differently.

Be your own devil’s advocate. Take a minute and consider an alternative solution to what you initially felt was the best one. Seriously consider what things would look like if the opposite of what you believed turned out to be true. Attack your original solution, seeking out its flaws, rather than its attributes. In short, try to prove yourself wrong.

Question your confidence. We all tend to be too confident in our thinking. It’s a good idea to humble yourself and consider being wrong.

Be honest with yourself. After going through these steps, ask yourself how comfortable you are admitting you were wrong in the first part of this exercise. If you have trouble admitting even to yourself that you make mistakes, take it as a sign you need to work on this more.

Further reading: 

Manage your confirmation bias by Arnaud Chevallier

and Solvable: A Simple Solution to Complex Problems by Arnaud Chevallier and Albrecht Enders


Arnaud Chevallier

Professor of Strategy at IMD

Arnaud Chevallier is Professor of Strategy at IMD, Director of the Global Management Foundations program, and Co-Director of the Complex Problem Solving program. His research, teaching, and consulting on strategic thinking bridges disciplines to provide concrete tools to improve decision making and corporate problem solving. He has written two books: Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving and Solvable: A Simple Solution to Complex Problems, co-authored with Albrecht Enders.


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