The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

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What Is 'Intervention Bias'?

Before making a change to a system, it’s important to understand that human beings are predisposed to do something rather than nothing. Intervention Bias makes us likely to introduce changes that aren’t necessary in order to feel in control of a situation.

The best way to correct for Intervention Bias is to examine what scientists call a null hypothesis: examining what would happen if you did nothing, or assumed the situation was an accident or error.

Before making system changes, ask yourself: “do we need to do this at all?”

Josh Kaufman Explains 'Intervention Bias'

Before making a change to a system, it’s important to understand that human beings are predisposed to do something rather than nothing. As we discussed, Absence Blindness leads us to value things we can see over things we can’t. This predisposition affects how we work on systems: Intervention Bias makes us likely to introduce changes that aren’t necessary in order to feel in control of a situation.

Many corporate policies have their roots in Intervention Bias. When something bad happens, it’s tempting to “fix” the situation by installing additional layers of limitations, reporting, and auditing. The result isn’t an improvement in Throughput or efficiency: it’s an increase in Communication Overhead, waste, and unproductive bureaucracy.

The best way to correct for Intervention Bias is to examine what scientists call a null hypothesis: examining what would happen if you did nothing, or assumed the situation was an accident or error.

Imagine a company that allows its employees to purchase any book they want or need, no questions asked. Books are inexpensive sources of high-quality information, so making it easy for employees to obtain them makes sense.

All is well until one employee abuses the privilege and orders hundreds of novels for personal enjoyment. What should be done?

Many companies would respond by eliminating the policy and requiring a manager’s approval for all book purchases. The result of this change wouldn’t fix the situation, which isn’t a widespread issue. Instead, it would annoy or anger employees who used the privilege responsibly, would waste time for everyone by increasing paperwork and bureaucracy, and would reduce employee productivity by increasing the amount of time it takes to find information they can use to improve the business.

The correct response in this case is to do nothing. One employee abused the privilege, so the situation can be handled with a single discussion, without a major change in policy. The damage is limited, and there’s no sense in penalizing everyone for a single person’s poor judgement. It was a Normal Accident, so overreaction is counterproductive.

Questions About 'Intervention Bias'


"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

H. L. Mencken, essayist


From Chapter 11:

Understanding Systems


https://personalmba.com/intervention-bias/



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The Personal MBA

Master the Art of Business

A world-class business education in a single volume. Learn the universal principles behind every successful business, then use these ideas to make more money, get more done, and have more fun in your life and work.

Buy the book:


About Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman is an acclaimed business, learning, and skill acquisition expert. He is the author of two international bestsellers: The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. Josh's research and writing have helped millions of people worldwide learn the fundamentals of modern business.

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