Noise: The hidden face of error
You’ve almost certainly heard of cognitive biases: psychological distortions that affect your judgment. But do you know what noise is, and its effect on your decision-making processes? Take a guided tour.
Let’s say you’ve made an important decision about a project that has occupied your team for several weeks. You’ve discussed it endlessly, driven on by the fear of making a mistake. You’ve gone through the data with a fine-tooth comb, and you’ve even factored in everyone’s cognitive biases (like your own tendency to recall only the negative side of things).
But now – yet again – it’s not working.
So you want to understand why. Did the environment suddenly change? Was there a lack of commitment from your fellow workers? Or was it just a poor decision?
But what if the real issue wasn’t the decision itself but the judgment it was based on? In spite of all the discussions you had, it’s possible that your collective vision was clouded by the throng of individual assessments.
Welcome to the world of noise, that unwanted variability in judgment that subtly distorts your decision-making processes. Unlike bias – which is systematic and can be traced to an identifiable cause – noise seems entirely random. It’s a formidable enemy, and one that is particularly hard to fight since it goes unnoticed most of the time.
Noise A Flaw in Human Judgment
Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony et Cass Sustein, (Little Brown Spark, may 2021)
Where there’s judgment, there’s noise
Just like acoustic noise, cognitive noise is everywhere, especially in your professional judgments – measurements whose instrument is the human mind. This type of judgment takes the form of an opinion given about a particular situation that should be based exclusively on known information, without personal views playing a role.
Judgment is key in the legal profession, the medical sector (diagnosis and prognosis), human resources (hiring decisions, periodic evaluations, etc.) and insurance (calculating premiums). It is also at work when you look at a problem from all sides before reaching a decision.
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