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It’ll Never Fly: Beat Confirmation Bias | Video

It'll Never Fly: Beat Confirmation Bias | Video

‘It’ll Never Fly’ How often have you heard words like that at the start of your project? Or maybe you’ve heard yourself saying them. If so, you’re in danger of ‘Confirmation Bias’.

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If you’ve ever said ‘it’ll never fly’, you’re in good company.

Lord Kelvin was one of the late 19th century’s pre-eminent physicists. He announced that:

‘heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible’

The absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.

Happily, the Wright brothers weren’t aware of him. Or perhaps they didn’t credit his pronouncement.

What about Project Management?

All this raises a number of themes that project managers should be aware of.

  1. Testing prototypes and running pilot programs are part of the discovery process. We should make more use of them.
  2. Unforeseen events often disrupt our projects. Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls them ‘Black Swan events’. We could equally call them ‘Flying Machine events’.
  3. Too often, project managers compile status reports based on what they know. Or they use data gathering to ‘evidence’ their executive summary. Instead, you should always start with an analysis of the data, and develop a fresh summary. That reduces the risk of Confirmation Bias.
  4. Assumptions can be fatal. We think we know something and become complacent in our knowledge. It’s our duty to check.

From Failure to Crisis

Often, we talk about sources of project failure. But how do project failures become crises? Usually when unaddressed causes of failure are accompanied by over-confidence.

And who tends to be the most over-confident?

Philip Tetlock found the answer to this, through his research. The answer is shocking: experts. Tetlock is an expert in the science of forecasting. So, how does he suggest we overcome this? You need to overcome your sense of ‘being an expert’. You need to continually go back and learn anew, challenge your knowledge, and widen your perspective.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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