Confirmation Bias Smells Fishy

Category: Monthly Article
Category: Monthly Article

Confirmation Bias Smells Fishy

Is there anything better than fresh seafood? Better question -- is there anything worse than bad seafood?  No, no there is not. 

While I travel all over the country, rarely do I get to visit beach communities like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  So, what does one do when driving down Kings Highway smelling the salt air, and hearing the waves crash against the beach? One finds a place to get some great seafood!

Looking back on the evening, I should have realized how silly it was to assume that all of the restaurants in Myrtle Beach were dipping their nets into the ocean and scooping out the freshest seafood. I mean, you’re right there, of course you’re getting it from the ocean daily, right? So, with the smell of the salt air, the sound of the crashing waves, and the naive belief that sheer proximity to fresh seafood somehow guarantees fresh seafood, I drove past a restaurant with a sign boasting “Best Seafood in Myrtle Beach.”  How lucky was I? 

In hindsight, I think it was the sign that really tipped the scales for me.  I was already hypnotized by the atmosphere, primarily because I live in the Michigan countryside fully equipped with cliched dirt roads and weathervanes.  Boy, I was sure looking forward to some great, fresh-from-the-ocean seafood for dinner!

The food was terrible. 

To add insult to injury as I drove to my hotel after dinner, I saw at least two dozen more signs boasting “Best Seafood in Myrtle Beach.” 

Lesson learned.  I made a decision based on all of the wrong information and I allowed natural confirmation bias to lead me to a plate of smelly fish. 

The information I was missing from my decision-making process was real-world experience. In the absence of real-world experience, I should have talked to somebody who did have real-world experience.  Personal experience, or the personal experiences of others, is essential in any decision-making process. 

It is natural to want to get through the decision-making process with as little effort as possible. But, if that is your only goal, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed. By tweaking your decision-making infrastructure slightly, you’ll be able to maintain your low-stress decision making process while also making solid, well-informed decisions. 

In the absence of direct experience, talk to somebody who does have direct experience.  If you’re buying a product online or choosing a restaurant, you will get this insight by reading reviews; however, reviews are often manipulated.  Reading reviews is different than just looking at the score on the reviews. When you actually read the reviews, you’re able to get a sense of a thing from somebody who has direct experience. 

Making decisions about more technical things, like what goes on in your law firm, may not be as easy as finding the best seafood place in Myrtle Beach, but the same process still applies. 

You may be putting in a new document management system or changing how you invoice your clients. These are big decisions and big decisions must be safeguarded against confirmation bias and unchallenged assumptions. 

Before the next big decision is made, remember it is worth the time and effort to talk to somebody who has experience with what you’re considering.  Talk to them. Ask them if they’re happy with the decision they made. Find out what they would have done differently. You will either learn that you’re making a wonderful decision and can proceed with confidence, or you may learn something that you did not see or hear during the process up to that point.  Either way, you win. 


Paul Purdue

Paul Purdue is what most people would call a nerd and formed Attorney Computer Systems in 1980 with one mission. To help attorneys “Worry Less and Practice More.” Today, Paul and his team do this by selling, implementing, and customizing the technology systems law firms use to run their practice and training the staff on this infrastructure. When Paul is not out saving the world from porous infrastructure, he is tinkering in the recording studio or spending time with his wife, Barb. He also likes playing backgammon on his phone, reading a good book, or otherwise enjoying his empty nest while occasionally inviting his adult children (Katie and Spencer) over to see how quickly they can get on his nerves.