Consulting and Confirmation Bias

Ever wonder how the McKinsey or Bain consultants your company hired can get the CEO to parrot their talking points in front of the all-hands meeting?

The answer, which Bob Hoffman brought to my attention today, is confirmation bias.

The initial fact-gathering and interview process over the first couple of weeks (billable, of course) of the engagement is to figure out not only what the executives believe about the business, but also what they believe the solution is.

When the deck comes back, the CEO thinks “Hmm, this looks a lot like my intuition, only with really clever charts that my own Powerpoint monkeys can’t create themselves. They must be right. On to phase two!”

Confirmation bias at work. We accept the things that match our belief system and filter out those that do not.

Great work if you can get it. Even better is that once the implementation of the plan is screwed up, you might be able to bill the next management team to confirm their biases.

How do we avoid confirmation bias? Make sure you don’t filter out ideas that don’t align with your belief. Hire a Devil’s Advocate (somebody like Chunka Mui or me) and task them with providing cogent arguments that challenge your beliefs.

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2 Responses to Consulting and Confirmation Bias

  1. suebrady5 says:

    Hear, hear. Love this post.


  2. markpilip says:

    Thanks Sue. The only thing I hated worse was when the McKinsey consultant showed my information–dressed up in their pretty slide–as their own unique work. No footnote crediting the original source, of course. I wonder how these guys avoided a plagarism rap in college. Never again.


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