Perspective: Hindsight Isn't Always 20/20

Mar 15, 2019

Sometimes, the world seems so predictable. Have you ever lost a job or had fun plans cancelled? Did you say, “I knew this would happen!” Or maybe the roulette ball bounced around your chosen number and then landed on it! You just knew it was going to hit, right?

Think about it. Did you really know? Or was it just one of many thoughts? This self-deception also occurs when we feel like we already knew a novel insight. Sensing our foreknowledge of past events or new ideas is called “hindsight bias.” If we aren’t conscious about this human glitch, it can damage our outlook and performance. Let’s say we’re learning a procedure at work or a concept in class. If we think, “Oh, I already knew that” when the protocol or idea is explained, we’ll shrug off further attention, and miss something important. This bias can also damage respect and understanding in political discussions because we think we’ve anticipated other people’s ideas and motivations.

Hindsight bias comes from remembering our predictive powers incorrectly, perhaps to flatter ourselves and increase our sense of control; also, there’s comfort in believing events to be inevitable. What to do? In general, it’s important to actively consider other conceivable results for past events and solicit critiques while performing newly-learned tasks. We can ask more questions instead of assuming we already know the answers.

I’m Bill Gahan, and that’s my perspective.