Blog Post

Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our minds.

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 20 January 2011



Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our minds.
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 127
Posted DateThursday 20 January 2011 13:45 GMT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/ ... 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias ... 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases ... 

So we consider ourselves to be objective - well if not that, at least capable of being objective. But its much harder then we think. I recently tweeted the Wikipedia page that lists our cognitive biases. I am amazed just how many of them there are - maybe a 100 or more. Its a very sobering list including decision-making and behavioural biases, biases in probability and belief, social biases and memory errors.

And then recently I came across this article on How facts backfire.

You would think that if someone had a view on a subject and you set out very clear, indisputable facts that they were wrong, that they would change their mind. Well research shows that many of us don't! In fact, we often became even more strongly set in our beliefs. 

Here are a few quotes from the article:

  • Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our minds.

  • And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

  • But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions.

  • And if you harbor the notion — popular on both sides of the aisle — that the solution is more education and a higher level of political sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the solution.

Its a rather scary article and demonstrates why change is so difficult. To me, this is part of what Knowledge Management is or should be all about. How do we recognise our cognitive biases when we make decisions and how do we avoid them, if that is at all possible, or at least mitigate them.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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