Bill Gates and the confirmation bias

I got a PowerPoint preso in my email today about a speech given by Bill Gates to a high school of the 11 things kids won’t learn in school. The rules themselves are quite good and you should definitely check them out.

While I had never heard of such a speech from Bill Gates, I had a hunch he didn’t give this speech and was curious to see if there was a video on the web. I googled ‘bill gates speech to teenagers’ and ended up finding out that and that no one actually knows where they came from.

What’s interesting is most people would not have gone to Google to dig deeper, they’ll believe with certainty that Bill Gates gave this speech just as they’ll believe most everything that confirms their own beliefs. It’s very easy to get influenced by such a presentation because it comes from an authority figure, we humans will automatically take it as ‘must-do’ advice.

The main thing is to understand that…

We’re all suckers for BS

It’s very easy to dress up ideas and align them with an influential figure to ‘provoke’ change. I have no doubt this presentation has been shared by parents throughout the world who then showed it to their kids and got a good result because of it. But, the opposite is also true. An idea can be manipulated with bad intentions in mind, and then we’ll have a very different result.

My point is that we often fall prey to the confirmation bias, our inherent tendency to confirm what we believe is true. I’m not arguing the value of the 11 laws on the presentation, they’re worth reading and taken into consideration. I’m just pointing out that by not ‘questioning’ our own beliefs we overlook the truth which most of the time lead to bad decisions.

The truth: Tell anyone what they want to hear and they’ll believe you. Especially if it’s common sense!

What to do instead?

Seek out the real truth, not what you believe to be true

As , in innovation activities there is a very strong emotional incentive to seek out opinions and information that confirms the value of our ideas:

Whenever we have an idea, instead of searching for ways to prove our ideas wrong, we usually attempt to prove them correct. Once we see a pattern we do not easily let go of it, we keep digging and digging to see that pattern more and more. Sometimes there isn’t even a pattern there but we somehow ‘want’ to believe there is. You know all too well how this plays out in any organization.

Again, instead of confirming our beliefs we should spend time searching for ‘evidence’ that we are wrong. The intention is not to be a skeptic, but to set ourselves free from assumptions and see with clarity. Some of us will dig deeper than others but the important thing is that you dig to challenge your own thinking. See the light!

P.S. Just to clear things up, It’s not that I don’t trust my friend. I just trust my instincts a lot more. But I do get his intent with sharing the preso with me, thanks Smile

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