Many people who didn’t know me earlier in life have trouble believing I was quite the hefty lad. That is the politically correct way of saying I was a “tubby kid,” but since I’m talking about myself, I don’t have to choose my words with any level of sensitivity. It all started the summer before seventh grade and ended the summer after my sophomore year of high school. During this time, I was flush with cash from a paper route, which meant I was also flush with Taco Doritos (the world’s most perfect snack) and full-sugar soda.
However, this introduction isn’t about being portly or pudgy; like a lot of things in life prior to being happily married, this is about girls. I was never bullied or teased too terribly in school that I can remember, but it was a long four years of being largely invisible to the fairer gender. Please don’t assume I was not amorous toward a gaggle of young ladies during this period. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Unfortunately, my affections and desires were either unrequited or simply ignored.
Once I lost the weight (growing six-to-eight inches over the summer didn’t hurt), my junior and senior year didn’t exactly represent a John-Hughes-movie-like turnaround for my dating life, but I did OK. Despite my shift in appearance, there was still no interest from my junior classmates, and so I turned my attention toward the incoming underclass ladies who had no knowledge of my plumper past (it sounds creepier than it was; I was a fifteen-year-old junior). Looking back, in the eyes of my fellow juniors, I wasn’t really “starting from zero.” I was already framed as overweight to them, and thus, cracking that dating pool would have been an uphill battle.
In behavioral finance, this concept is called a “confirmation bias” and refers to the fact that we rarely encounter something or someone without having some sort of preconceived opinion that impacts our ultimate judgment. A colleague and I coined this same phenomenon as having to “fight your way back from stupid” (also not very politically correct). The brutal fact is, when you convey information to someone (a client, colleague, etc.) you are rarely starting from a neutral (zero) position. It’s not a 50/50 coin flip on the outcome because the recipient of your message is framing you with all the previous baggage you and/or your firm bring to the table. If your firm is well-respected and clients and colleagues think you’re smart, you are going to get a lot more leeway to direct a positive outcome, achieve a desired action, or simply shift their viewpoint toward your own. However, if those same audiences have a negative impression around receiving your message, you don’t just have to convince them the information you’re transmitting is valuable. You must “fight your way back from stupid” and get to neutral (not an easy task) before your desired outcome can even be considered a viable possibility. This same confirmation bias holds true when you are receiving information rather than delivering it.
While seemingly harmless, a lack of cognizance regarding this behavioral bias can lead to sub-par decision making for clients and professionals. Like it or not, we are all susceptible to mounting skewed, “data-free” opposition to concepts and ideas that do not support our current viewpoint. This is done all too effortlessly inside our heads by selectively filtering and paying more attention to information that supports our current opinions, all the while, ignoring or rationalizing away evidence that doesn’t. This bias can leave you with an incomplete or incorrect picture of a person, investment, or idea and needs to be actively challenged and checked inside your mind on an ongoing basis if you want to make better decisions and arrive at informed conclusions.
Confirmation bias aside, while Frito-Lay produces more varieties of waist-expanding and deliciously salty snacks than ever before, the heart (and stomach) wants what it wants, and thus, Taco Doritos remain in a class by themselves. However, I have switched to Diet Coke.