The ongoing challenge of avoiding bias in decision-making

This week’s blog is a little different — it focuses on one of the “hows” of regional business leadership.

Perhaps as a result of being a research engineer by training, I find myself constantly thinking and asking myself, Natalie, our volunteers, and our partners about ways to do things better, whether we are speaking of our RTA organizational structure or the region’s transportation network.

As someone who has studied political science in both academic and professional circles for 30 or more years, I recognize that what is possible will depend on a host of constraints and interests — and timing.

As a member of the current Leadership North Carolina class, I just heard Christopher Chung (Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina CEO) speak of the importance to executives of a constant focus on aligning internal resources and constantly tweaking the balance of those inherently limited resources to optimize and achieve organizational objectives.

The above brings to me a short but very interesting Scientific American article called, “The Perils of ‘Survivorship Bias.’”

I have subscribed to Scientific American magazine for several years. I do so for two primary reasons: to become aware of discoveries, studies, and solutions that are new, emerging, or on the possible future horizon; and to challenge my thinking.

The author, a computational and behavioral scientist named Sendhil Mullainathan with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, speaks about how to avoid a common fault in reasoning — namely, over-focusing on the data you know, rather than the data that isn’t there.

In the article, “Survivorship Bias” refers to the error of “ignoring the selection process that led us to have those data.”

The author challenges us to ask ourselves this one question when either making decisions, or when reflecting on the results of past decisions made by ourselves and others: “What’s the data that’s not present?”

Dealing with bias is not easy, and we we will never get it completely right — time and limited information are always with us. But even asking the question can lead us to have a more measured view of our decision-making and our reflection on past results, including successes and failures.

Better data leads to better decisions, and better analysis of those decisions.

Let’s get moving, 


Joe Milazzo II, PE
Executive Director
Regional Transportation Alliance


Gold members

Thank you to our Omnia Gold, Sustaining Gold, and Gold members

Omnia Gold