Narrative bias

Narrative bias

Back from holidays, I first want to welcome you back to this weekly blog. I hope you had a chance to recharge, both physically and mentally. I did. That’s why I chose to come back with a hard and yet actual topic: narrative bias. Here we go!

To warm up, let me show you an image and make a question.

power of stories

What do you think?

This image went viral some days ago, and it came to me thanks to a former colleague and friend (by the way, the source is unknown; happy to give credit if you tell me).

My first reaction was: why a house. Why not a plane? Have they used all the bricks? If not, where are the rest?

The metaphor using these little colourful plastic bricks is great. Because we can build almost whatever we want using the same set of pieces.

Being a true believer of storytelling, I can’t help but recognizing the need for critical thinking and how a story taken without questioning could affect our role as leaders.

No doubt about the power of storytelling. We, humans, are made of stories. They are the oldest way to convey knowledge and information. Also, feelings and emotions. Make people love or hate something; they can make change happen. Stories are how we make sense of the world.

Thus, stories are one of the most powerful tools for people. And yet, they could be a liability if we are not aware about how we build them and, more important, why.

We need the stories to be able to process the large amounts of information we receive daily; we turn that information into a story and, simply, let go of the facts that do not fit it. In that letting things go is where liability exists.

What happens when we build a story?

Wanted (because we use pieces coming from the collective thinking that help our purpose) or not (sufficiently unconscious to go unnoticed), building a story implies, among other things, bringing our biases along.

Biases shape the way we see reality, and therefore impact the way we build stories.

Among these biases, it’s worth talking about the narrative bias. This bias refers to people’s tendency to interpret information as being part of a larger story or pattern, even if some facts don’t support the full narrative.

Once built, narrative information impacts decision-making process, and this could lead into making poorer decisions.

Since stories are built to digest information, we love when they explain the world and give us a root cause for the events. This gives us a false sense of control over the future, reducing uncertainty. That’s why we tend to believe stories which provide some kind of causal explanation, no matter if that explanation is true or not.

Key questions for leaders

If the way humans build stories is impacted by the narrative bias, how good is your decision-making process based on the stories you build from your data?

Should you look for the data not fitting the story? How could you take advantage of AI (artificial intelligence) and business analytics to help avoid our natural bias?

It is not only about using storytelling to move the world, but prevent us to get trapped in a hurting one.

We are only humans and yet nowadays, we have many tools that can help us in becoming better thinkers if we are aware of our blind spots.