How would you react? Would you calmly consider the new information, then revise your views accordingly? Or would you dig in your heels and insist that you were right?

What is the backfire effect?

According to academic research stretching back many years, almost everyone would pick the second option, and cling to their personal beliefs despite any new evidence they are shown. This is such a common psychological tendency that it has its own name: the ‘backfire effect.’ Essentially, instead of changing your mind, being presented with new information that contradicts your own perspective backfires, and actually makes you more committed to your original view.

This has significant implications for social interactions, of course. (Have you ever tried to convince a friend to go and see a certain movie, and used many positive reviews to support your case, only to hear your friend declare all those reviewers must be wrong?)

However, this tendency becomes even more concerning on a broader scale, when we consider how it might impact people’s willingness to alter their established perspectives on the political and social challenges we face as communities and nations. In the business world, the issue can be just as prevalent, and it can be just as much of a challenge when organizations try to work out ways of solving the backfire effect.

Examples from the business world

A clear example is in how organizations identify business risks arising from inefficient or ineffective processes. Traditionally, analyzing the difference between the way a business is supposed to work, and the way it actually works, has been the province of highly-skilled (and often highly-paid) consultants, frequently offering a slightly unhealthy dose of intuition.

When recommendations and evidence are presented by individual consultants, it is easy for decision-makers to take those findings as a personal attack, and reject the consultants’ conclusions—a classic case of the backfire effect.

The backfire effect is compounded when another common psychological trait comes into play—the ‘sunk costs fallacy.’ This refers to the tendency of people and businesses to treat something (a particular item, or a certain course of action) as more valuable or useful when they have already spent time, energy, and money on it.

A great example of this is a legacy IT system which no longer meet the needs of a company, or when an organization’s rapid expansion means its existing process management software cannot keep up with the required changes.

Solving the backfire effect

You can see how these two traits—the backfire effect and the sunk costs fallacy— can combine to leave organizations committed to activities and decisions, despite being shown information that demonstrates a better way, and despite knowing they are devoting too many resources. A tough trap to break out of!

But there is a way. Instead of relying on consultants, you can change your approach and get right to the source, examining your business processes and the way they interact at the most basic level. A tool like Signavio Process Intelligence can help you do just that, and overcome the potential bias of the backfire effect.

Signavio can also offer quick, clean migration of an organization’s existing process data—for example, event-driven process chains, organization charts, and value chains developed with ARIS®—directly into the Signavio Business Transformation Suite. This saves time and money, and provides a valuable antidote to the sunk costs fallacy.

Understanding your business processes is a bit like understanding the underlying quirks and biases of your own mind. If you can figure out why things work the way they do, you can understand and optimize them, leading to better, clearer decisions—personally and professionally!

For more detail, download our quick guide on how to migrate process data from ARIS® to Signavio. If you’d like to get started on optimizing the way you work, sign up for a free 30-day trial with Signavio today.

Published on: March 1st 2018 - Last modified: April 27th, 2018