Making Horses Drink? Cognitive Dissonance and BI

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I think most of us would agree that the whole point of BI is to improve the decisions and actions that people make.  Show me the Action! However, I’m worried that we fundamentally miss the most important part, the final link in the chain, the psychology bit that means someone does something based on all […]

I think most of us would agree that the whole point of BI is to improve the decisions and actions that people make.  Show me the Action!

However, I’m worried that we fundamentally miss the most important part, the final link in the chain, the psychology bit that means someone does something based on all of the ‘BI’ provided to them. 
 
Why am I worried?  It’s because research strongly challenges our paradigm of rational decision making.  Business Intelligence has at its foundation the idea that people will take unbiased decisions based upon an objective review of available information….   But do they?

 As simple as data architecture gets?


Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance is a state of mental discomfort that is held by a person who holds multiple ideas or beliefs that are contradictory.  This is exactly the kind of situation we might commonly expect an information user to be in when they analyse some data, the numbers might tell them something that contracts their prior beliefs.
 

Leon Festinger, a cognitive psychologist, in his theory of cognitive dissonance considered how people react to a situation of dissonance – essentially by trying to achieve connosance.  His basic hypothesis is as follows:

  1. “The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance”
  2. “When dissonance is present, in addition to trying to reduce it, the person will actively avoid situations and information which would likely increase the dissonance”

So how do people try to reduce the dissonance?  Festinger again suggests four ways.
 

  1. Change behaviour – ie. Change your prior belief.    This would be good….
  2. Justify by changing the conflicting cognition ie. Move the goals so that your original belief is still correct.
  3. Justify behaviour by adding new cognitions ie. Find some other information that backs up your original belief
  4. Ignore or Deny the conflicting information ie.  Head in the sand!


Are you Concerned?

Wow!  So what we have here is a critical step in the effectiveness of BI, the step to action, and we know that in this step dissonance is common – of course, because BI is about challenging beliefs with new information.    We also know that some of the common responses in this situation are to avoid looking at something that might conflict with your prior belief, deny the new information, or actively try to justify your prior belief even more!!!!

This is a significant challenge for BI.  You can take an executive decision maker to water, but you can’t make them drink!  We can do as much collecting, organising, presenting, and analysing information as we want – but if that final pshchological step is broken…..
 

I work in an organisation of several thousand information management consultants and I haven’t met a single person who would call themselves a psychologist… Maybe we’d better start hiring some?

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