The Importance of Disconfirming Information

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Strategic decisionmakers are at a high risk for considering only information that supports their pre-existing beliefs. This lesson explores ways to find these hidden biases by discovering disconfirming information.

Ark Encounter's Inaccurate Predictions

Several years ago in rural Grant County, Kentucky, the local government provided material support in the form of land grants and other incentives to accompany a proposal to build a museum that supported the Christian theory of creationism. In order to justify providing these resources and incentives, the county presented evidence that such an attraction would bring sales tax dollars into the area and saw it as an investment not unlike what many other cities provide to large businesses or sports teams.

Unfortunately, that's not how the story played out. The museum Ark Encounter was opened in 2016, and to some extent visitors did come. However, projections made by the museum for both financial performance and the anticipated number of visitors weren't very accurate.

As a result, the museum's fortunes have bounced around wildly. However, even when the museum was performing well, the projected economic benefit to other businesses in the county did not materialize.

The Museum Ark Encounter failed to consider disconfirming information.

Confirmation Bias and Disconfirming Information

This narrative illustrates the danger of confirmation bias, a common pitfall in decision-making that occurs when individuals inadvertently or intentionally ignore evidence that conflicts with their belief or view. Sometimes referred to as 'frame blindness', confirmation bias is the epitome of seeing only what one wants to see rather than what is actually present.

Protecting the strategic decision-making process from confirmation bias means actively looking for disconfirming information, data that challenges or opposes the prevailing opinion or belief at the time.

In addition to frame blindness, the loss of frame control can also be problematic. A loss of frame control occurs when disconfirming information is missed because strategic decision-makers have lost sight of the real problem and are now solving an entirely different problem or no problem at all.

This information helps organizations ensure that all of the relevant data is on the table in plain view before there is a commitment to any strategic path.

Overlooking Disconfirming Information

In the case of the museum, confirmation bias and a lack of disconfirming information were the reasons why the museum itself, and the larger community in Grant County, never realized the benefits they thought they would reap from the project. Disconfirming information regarding this project and its model was both abundant and compelling, but frame blindness and a loss of frame control prevented project leaders from discovering or acting on it.

In this case, the frame blindness caused county and museum leaders to overlook the fact that several other similar projects had gone bankrupt and were now closed. Information about bankruptcies is almost always public, and a simple search of public records would have presented the strategic decision-makers with compelling evidence that their business model was alarmingly similar to that of other organizations that failed.

Consequences of Loss of Frame Control

Similarly, the loss of frame control also prevented the discovery in consideration of disconfirming information related to the museum's reception by other stakeholders. Initially, the museum's purpose was to present evidence that favored a belief in absolute creationism as found in the Bible's Genesis. However, when the details of the project became public, high profile scientists blasted the museum, accusing it of promoting ''junk science.''

This was a pivotal moment because the creation Museum had another opportunity to examine disconfirming information regarding its science. The scientists who criticized the museum and attacked the reliability of its science could've led museum leaders to reevaluate their own science in light of these criticisms.

In other words, the museum's strategic decision-makers could have carefully considered the data presented by their critics and been willing to adjust their approach if compelling evidence was presented. As it turned out, the disconfirming information pointed out by hundreds of other scientists was not taken into account resulting in harsh, public criticism by the secular, scientific community.

Why Disconfirming Information Isn't Considered

There are a number of reasons why organizations fail to consider disconfirming information, or to properly analyze it and act on it when it is found.

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