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It’s not unusual for people to look for information that confirms their preconceived notions or beliefs. Search engines feed that bias by serving up information that aligns with an individual’s online behavior patterns. Sometimes this leads to conspiracy theories, as ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit found out earlier this month.

If you’re not familiar, Herbstreit gave his prediction about which teams would make the Top 4 playoff games. In the set background, he showcased football helmets from Michigan, Washington, Texas, and Alabama. Florida State fans were miffed that their undefeated team’s helmet was below the others. When Herbstreit’s prediction came true, a conspiracy theory was born. Some people claimed that the helmet placement suggested Herbstreit had advanced info from the committee before the official announcement. Others claimed that ESPN actually influenced the committee playoff decision.

Herbstreit insists he didn’t have insider information. He simply put the helmets in the order he believed represented the Top 4 college teams. Given his years of experience, why is it inconceivable that he would understand how the committee would look at team rankings?

A fellow consultant once shared with me how employees of a client’s company leaped to the conclusion that there would be no year-end bonuses that year based on the smaller size of the holiday mug that was given out at the party. They were wrong. Jumping to conclusions based on limited information often leads to unfair judgments and unnecessary angst. What examples have you seen of this?