Tuesday, March 31, 2015
"Confirmation bias is a tendency to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs and opinions about how the world works, and to overlook or ignore data that refute them." Tanya beer and Julia Coffman, How Shortcuts Cut Us Short: Cognitive Traps in Philanthropic Decision Making. Center for Evaluation Innovation, May 2014. I title one of my favorite mistakes stories, "Me and My Theory." It's about innovation and how we sometimes get blinded by the seemingly fresh perspectives embodied in our latest bright ideas. We clean out the closet of old approaches, funding mechanisms, research and common sense -- and grab onto the exhilarating possibilities of untested ideas. We put off evaluation as long as we can, arguing its killer effects, and opt for a few good stories laced with a good dose of our theory. When contradictory evidence breaks through, we deny its relevance or the credibility of the messenger. At some point, innovators just leave the field as fast as they can for greener pastures -- refusing to acknowledge the past. Luckily, new funders are always standing in line ready to make another mistake, "swinging for the home run." Paradoxically, I've called some of these organizations and programs, "high innovation, low results." The best way for avoiding this mistake is to watch out for social innovators who want to throw everything out everything and start from scratch.