msb ~040 Making sense of weak signals

Making sense of weak signals

Listening mode…

In this 2009 article, Paul Schoemaker and George Day identify biases we unconsciously apply to our worldviews, blinding us to important but weak signals of change. Once we “lock in on a certain picture [we] often reshape reality to fit into that particular frame. Humans tend to judge too quickly when presented with ambiguous data; we have to work extra hard to consider less familiar scenarios.”

Such biases render reality as familiar, expected: reducing the scope to consider different perspectives. We become overconfident in our way of seeing: filtering what we see according to our mental model; rationalising it to sustain our belief in the model as reality; seeking evidence to bolster this.

Working in groups can help diversify our individual biases, but “often a group can fall victim to narrow-minded analysis, tunnel vision, a false sense of consensus and poor information gathering”: groupthink. Working between groups can help combat this — for example through boundary objects.

When the change signals are weak, overcoming these biases becomes more difficult. Scanning our horizons to actively reveal weak signals; amplifying them to make sense of unfamiliar information; probing and clarifying to help develop our picture of the unknown: these become tools for survival.

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