Tag Archives: Overconfidence Effect

The Most Common Biases in Business Decisions

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ll know that one of topics that I write about the most is cognitive biases. So, when I came across an article on the Harvard Business Review that neatly wrapped up some of the more common biases in business decisions, I just had to comment on it.

I agree with just about everything in this table (?), but I’m surprised about one thing: the endowment effect. That is, I’m surprised it’s not listed in the table. Specifically, listed under ‘stability biases’ as this is where it would fit. To refresh your memory:

In short, it means that people want more money for something than they’d be willing to pay for it. Put differently: we overvalue that which we own. You could think of a simple example of this through the course of a negotiation. When negotiation with someone, we’ll probably overvalue what we bring to the table. Someone may offer you $50 for your 25-year old keyboard (piano), but you think it’s worth at least $75. Barring any outside appraisal, the endowment effect is likely at play here.

Given the number of deal-making that takes place on a regular basis, I’m surprised that we didn’t see this as part of the table. It seems to me that in business, when money is often the thing that’s held in the highest regard (for better or for worse), you’d want to have people with the decision-making power understand that they may be overvaluing what’s theirs.

Upon further reflection, I can understand why one may not see it as a “common” bias because in today’s society, (at least in Western cultures), the common transaction is cash for stuff and not stuff for stuff (barter). If bartering were more the name of the game, then I would certainly want to see the endowment effect on that list. Either way, though, it’s certainly worth remembering that we tend to overvalue the stuff we have.

WRAP — An Acronym from Decisive: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 10

I recently came across a post from Farnam Street that seems like it would make a great addition to the series we’ve been exploring over the last 10 weeks (biases in judgment and decision-making). So, instead of going over another bias today, I thought I’d share the information I found and tie it back into our series. Check back next week for a new bias (it could be functional fixedness, the hindsight bias, the status quo bias, or maybe the recency/primacy effect(s)…)

The author of the Farnam Street blog summarized some of the work in Chip and Dan Heath’s new book: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Given that our series is about decision-making, this book seems like it would be absolutely on-point, with regard to the closing of each post (How to avoid *blank*).

I haven’t yet read the book, but I did want to include a brief excerpt (courtesy of Farnam Street), along with a lead-in from Farnam Street:

The Heaths came up with a process to help us overcome these villains and make better choices. “We can’t deactivate our biases, but … we can counteract them with the right discipline.” The nature of each of the four decision-making villains suggests a strategy for how to defeat it.

1. You encounter a choice. But narrow framing makes you miss options. So … Widen Your Options. How can you expand your sent of choices? …

2. You analyze your options. But the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information. So … Reality-Test Your Assumptions. How can you get outside your head and collect information you can trust? …

3. You make a choice. But short-term emotion will often tempt you to make the wrong one. So … Attain Distance Before Deciding. How can you overcome short-term emotion and conflicted feelings to make better choices? …

4. Then you live with it. But you’ll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold. So … Prepare to Be Wrong. How can we plan for an uncertain future so that we give our decisions the best chance to succeed? …

There’s also a handy picture that’s included (again, courtesy of Farnam Street):

As we can see, the Heaths have offered four universal ways for avoiding biases in judgment and decision-making. If we recall some of the different ways for avoiding biases that we’ve discussed over the last 9 weeks, many of them can be collapsed into one of the categories listed above. In case you’re a bit hazy, here are some of the biases that we’ve talked about before that have a “way for avoiding” that falls into one of the categories above:

So, if you’re having trouble remembering the different ways for avoiding the biases we’ve talked about, all you have to do is remember “W-R-A-P!”

When 99% Confident Leads to Wrongness 40% of the Time: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 9

This week, we’re looking at one of my ‘favorite’ biases, in that it’s one that once you know, it can be quite comical to spot it in others (and yourself, if you still fall for it, from time to time). From Wikipedia: the overconfidence effect “is a well-established bias in which someone’s subjective confidence in their judgments is reliably greater than their objective accuracy, especially when confidence is relatively high.” That’s a bit jargon-y, so let me illustrate with a simple example.

In fact, this example comes from a lecture I heard about negotiation and talked about in one of my previous posts. In case you were wondering, the lecture comes from Professor Margaret Neale at Stanford. It was a brilliant! There was so much information packed into the lecture. I remember listening to it a few different times and still pulling out nuggets of wisdom. Anyway, I digress. The example that Prof. Neale uses is particularly on point for illustrating the overconfidence effect.

She has an empty pop bottle filled with paper clips (but not to the top). She says to the crowd that she wants them to guess how many paper clips are in the bottle. She walks up and down the aisles, so they can get a closer look, too. She instructs the crowd to write down their answer. Then, she asks them to write down a range where they could be 100% (she may say 99%, I don’t remember) sure that the number of paper clips fell in the range. Essentially, she was asking for a confidence interval. I think she also told them that she was sure there weren’t more than 1,000,000 paper clips in there. After some time, she then tells the audience how many were in there. She asks if anyone got it right (no one raises their hand). She then says something to the effect of, “For how many of you did the number of paper clips fall within the range?” There may have been about 35% of the room who raised their hand. 35%! She exclaims that this is terrible given that all of these people were 100% (or 99%) sure that the number would fall in the range. In fact, she said that in a room that size, there should have only been a handful of people who’s range wasn’t met (if the 99% figure was being used, rather than 100%). Prof. Neale then goes on to explain that this is the overconfidence effect. The audience was being asked to make an estimate of something about which they knew nothing, and then asked to rate their confidence. Knowing that they knew nothing about the topic, it would have been logical for the audience to have a large confidence interval (between 10 paper clips and 20,000 paper clips) — or even bigger!

This happens in more ways than just simply estimating the number of paper clips in a bottle. We also see this with investors. When asked, fund manager typically report having performed above-average service. In fact, 74% report having delivered above-average service, while the remaining 26% report having rendered average service.

Another place that we see the overconfidence effect show up is with the planning fallacy: “Oh yeah, I can finish that in two weeks…”

Ways for Avoiding the Overconfidence Effect

1) Know what you know (and don’t know)

The fastest way to slip into the trap of the overconfidence effect is to start making “confident” predictions about things that you don’t know about. Guessing the number of paper clips in a bottle is something that most of us have little to no expertise in. So, list a large confidence interval. If you have no experience in managing a project, it might be in your best interest not to make a prediction about how long it will take to complete the project (planning fallacy).

2) Is this person really an expert?

Sometimes, you’ll hear someone displaying a level of confidence in a given situation that makes you think they know what they’re talking about. As a result, it might bias you into believing what they are saying. It’s important to know if this person is an expert in this field, or if maybe they’re succumbing to the overconfidence effect.

From Scott Plous‘ book called The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making: “Overconfidence has been called the most ‘pervasive and potentially catastrophic’ of all the cognitive biases to which human beings fall victim. It has been blamed for lawsuits, strikes, wars, and stock market bubbles and crashes.”

If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series: