Better Decision Making: Stop Trying to Prove Yourself Right With Data

Last Updated Jan 5, 2011 11:59 AM EST

You know the mantra: Show me the data. Modern businesses rely on data to make even the simplest of decisions with a fervor that approaches a religion. But not all data is created equal.

Recently, the Harvard Business Review claimed that "You Can't Multitask, So Stop Trying." This subject is near and dear to my heart; I've previously argued that multitasking is a productivity killer.

But buried deep in this article is an assertion about the way we hoard data to help make business decisions:

People tend to search for information that confirms what they already believe. Multiple sources of confirmation increase our confidence in our choices. Paradoxically, more information also leads to discomfort, because some of it might be conflicting. As a result, we then search for more confirmatory information.
The remedy? It's important to realize that not all information is equally valid, and smart business decisions come out of looking at data that challenge our assumptions and our intuition.

If you find a lot of data that seem to neatly reinforce your conclusions, look elsewhere. In particular, the HBR says:

Know the difference between social networks, which are likely to confirm your choices and therefore make you feel good, and knowledge networks, which might challenge them.