Confirmation Bias And Why Conferences Need To Become Innovation Labs


No matter how open minded people profess to be, we’re all hard-wired to some degree for confirmation bias.

It is a filter that we use to see reality that matches our thinking. It can cloud our thinking and distort our pursuit of facts.

Confirmation Bias And Change

Confirmation Bias is our default preference for consuming information that supports what we already believe.

And what about people with differing viewpoints? If they’re credible, we may listen for a bit, but then it’s back to our safe havens where everyone nods in agreement.

Change of any kind can be daunting, yet “business as usual” is quickly becoming the more perilous path. Strategies that once delivered solid results are sputtering in today’s change-charged marketplace. We’ve watched behemoth businesses tumble because they didn’t change fast enough. Not too long ago, change was loaded with risk. Now, many lie awake wondering about the consequences of not changing.

The Good News?

Awareness of how confirmation bias clouds our vision and impedes ideation is growing. We’re seeing more articles on the subject, like this one from Fast Company.

You can’t solve what you don’t see, so awareness is an important first step. This awareness fuels our desire for fresh insight from new and more credible sources.

For this reason, brainstorm sessions at conferences are multiplying, as participants suspend disbelief and entertain new ideas.

Scan any business bestseller list and you’ll see plenty of change agents and directives. Tune in on today’s business success stories and you’ll find courageous people who managed to quell the naysayers and entertain new “what if?” possibilities that transformed their businesses. Imagine if we could capture that dynamic and embed it throughout the conference experience. We can and we should.

Pitching Conferences As Innovation Labs

Conference organizers often toss out the word innovation to promote their events, but where many fall short is in thinking through how they will deliver on that promise. How exactly will they design sessions that inspire interaction, collaboration and “big idea” discovery?

If we could help attendees envision a new conference experience where they can test assumptions (countering confirmation bias) and at the same time, engage in new and valuable exchanges that reveal breakthrough ideas, that would go a long way in differentiating our conference product. As you paint a more vivid picture of innovation in action at your next conference, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Who else will be attending the conference? Will I find like-minded and different-minded people who “get” my business? [Cue attendee list published on the conference website.]
  • Will there be speakers who have road-tested many ideas, but managed to quickly zero in on a few winners? What was their idea discovery, filtering and nurture process? [Cue stories from successful practitioners + guided peer-to-peer discussions.]
  • How will I navigate the hundreds, maybe even thousands of people attending this conference to find the precious few who can help me find that next big idea? [Cue smart mobile apps built for connexity and capturing notes about these valuable exchanges.]
  • Could this be a conference where we can gather our teams, disperse and discover, and then meet up periodically to compare notes? [Cue pod-cluster seating throughout the meeting venue where people can easily gather for impromptu chats.]
  • When the conference ends, how can we continue these conversations to take half-baked ideas to fully-baked masterpieces? [Cue a dynamic post-conference website where attendees can continue these idea exchanges + a Community Manager who will prime the collaboration pump regularly with helpful insight.]

A final thought about Confirmation Bias: It doesn’t just apply to our external customers (attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, etc.). Sometimes the biggest confirmation bias threats are within, so be sure to invest time to help your internal stakeholders envision this new and improved idea discovery model.

Does confirmation bias ever slow down your conference reinvention plans? Would a Conference Innovation Lab be a good fit for your audience? What else can we do to help attendees find/nurture/implement that next big idea?

Adapted from Donna’s Meeting Innovation post on Cvent’s Event Planning blog. ©2014.

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