Lady Gaga’s new hit single “Million Reasons” is an apt song for today’s world of ‘fake news’ and our national rush to judgment about what is –and isn’t—good decision making. She sings “I got a million reasons to walk away. But baby, I just need one good one to stay.” And that’s how we operate as human beings; we watch what we want to watch and read what we want to read, and we consume information that agrees with our worldview.
So even though Lady Gaga reminds us that we get bombarded with a multitude of explanations and evidence about a person or an event, say President Trump’s latest diktat on immigration, we zero in on “the one good reason to stay” –that is the one reason that confirms our viewpoint.
Decision scientists refer to this as “satisfycing” where we pick the first solution that seems satisfactory, rather than going through all of the possibilities to identify the best solution. That’s fine, and of small consequence, when choosing, say, a particular brand of cream cheese at the grocery store, but it can be very costly to do so when it comes to our ability to engage well with others who have a different viewpoint, or when the decision will affect our earning potential or job satisfaction for years to come.
Thus the problem with ‘satsifycing’ is not only that we miss out on new possible understanding and insight, it means that we can’t –and don’t– have an ability to objectively identify other, and importantly, disconfirming information.
Sadly, our ‘blinders’ can lead to the meaning of Lady Gaga’s second verse in “One Million Reasons.” She sings:
Head stuck in a cycle, I look off and I stare
It’s like that I’ve stopped breathing, but completely aware
‘Cause you’re giving me a million reasons
The verse, and other lines in the song like it, convey sadness and disappointment. And while Lady Gaga might be referring to being disenchanted with a paramour, it also could be that she’s generally unhappy about her life. And isn’t that something we want to avoid? To do that, we need to look past the “one good reason to stay” inside our worldview. It is counterproductive to good decision making to be completely lost in our own opinions and thoughts.
Behavioral psychologists like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky have taught us that our minds are wired to “lie” to us, or to encourage us to embrace “fake news;” this is referred to as “confirmation bias,” a form of selective thinking in which we seek out and overvalue information that confirms our existing beliefs, while neglecting or undervaluing information that is contradictory to our existing beliefs. It is related to commitment and consistency bias where we behave in a way that validates our prior actions.
But confirmation bias, like ‘satsifycing,’ may lead us to interpret information falsely. It leads to overconfidence in personal beliefs, even in the face of contrary evidence. In business and in our personal lives, it can lead to extremely poor (and costly) decisions.
It can also lead to where Lady Gaga goes next in her lyrics, to mistrust:
And if you say something that you might even mean
It’s hard to even fathom which parts I should believe
So don’t try so hard to be a believer. Instead, perhaps the answer lies in recognizing that we are flawed thinkers. If we do that we can make a concerted effort to step outside of ourselves and into the perspectives of others so that we can relate well with them and engage with opposing ideas in an effort to see a more accurate picture of facts.
In our time of divisiveness, Lady Gaga is right that we don’t need “a million reasons” but we should have more than the one that confirms our existing viewpoint because the quality of our life is in part dependent upon the quality of our important decisions.
Cheryl Strauss Einhorn is the creator of the AREA Method, a decision making system for individuals and companies to solve complex problems. Cheryl is the founder of CSE Consulting and the author of the upcoming book Problem Solved, a Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence & Conviction. Cheryl teaches as an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School and has won several journalism awards for her investigative stories about international political, business and economic topics. Contact Cheryl at her website areamethod.com.
Guest Post By: By Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Photo Credit of Lady Gaga: Google Images