Politics and sports offer us beautiful opportunities to learn what makes us tick. The examples would fill a book, but there’s one key lesson we can use to build our persuasive power. This power can be exploited for evil or noble use.
It’s not the politicians or athletes this time. It comes from the ones who talk and write about politics and sports. Yes, the media controls most of it but everyone with access to an internet connection is guilty at some point.
I refer to hindsight bias.
The Wikipedia definition states it as the inclination, after an event has occurred, to see the event as having been predictable, despite there having been little or no objective basis for predicting it. In sports we like to use the term Monday Morning Quarterback. We use the benefit of hindsight to criticize decisions made in the game as if they were predictable.
In politics, we hold elections. Someone wins. Someone loses. Soon after the results are tallied, we’re swimming in analysis. Here’s why he won. Here’s why she lost. By cherry picking certain events, actions and moments in time we draw conclusions. We should’ve seen it coming, they tell us.
We know that people fall for it all the time. Pundits earn vast sums of money from the benefit of hindsight. Nobody seems to question it.
Why We Fall For It
When we hear or read these things they make perfect sense. We play connect-the-dots in our minds. We hear a few tidbits of information, connect them together and create a story. It fits nice and neat into our brains.
Many a consulting businesses thrive on hindsight bias. Here’s how it often goes:
“Mr. client may I see what you’ve done?”
“Here you go. It hasn’t been working”
“Ah, I see what you’ve done. This makes perfect sense. I see why you’ve failed. You could use our help”
Of course that’s grossly simplified but you get the point.
The Truth About Hindsight Bias
Is hindsight bias a bad thing? I struggle with that one. After all, I’m guilty of it myself. One thing I like to do is observe social situations and then ask myself questions. Why did it unfold the way it did? What did I learn about human behavior? How can I apply it to my writing? The answers I come up with involve some sort of hindsight.
Here’s my take on the whole thing. Using hindsight bias positions you as an expert. It makes you look like you know what the hell you’re talking about. If you use it as a means to assess the cause of some outcome and then use that learning to apply to future events then it’s a good thing. It allows us to test and prove or disprove our conclusions.
Cherry picking a few pieces of information and then drawing larger conclusions seems a bit underhanded. Articles like, “The exact moment Hillary threw away the election” ignores a nearly infinite number of data points that all contributed to the loss.
The pundits who make big sweeping conclusions from their Monday morning quarterbacking make all the headlines but yield little in wisdom. Like other persuasion tools, it’s not the tool that is good or bad. The intent and purpose determine the value.Read More →