The Why #20: Why is it 11:11 every time I look at my watch?

By Dan Monheit, 28.5.21

Question submitted by Ross, Holland Park

They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day, but I’m going to assume that you, dear Ross, are more of a digital watch (and velcro wallet) kind of guy.

It’s tough to go past the 11:11 phenomena, and a quick scour of the internet reveals plenty of perfectly reasonable explanations including the ‘synchronicity of the universe’, ‘auspicious signs’, ‘the opening of opportunity portals’ and ‘the presence of spirits’. Sigh.

To be fair, 11:11 may not be for everyone, but each of us is subject to our own beliefs about things happening far more often than they should. For some, it’s a perfectly timed Forty Winks 40 hour sale. For others it’s ‘everyone’ on Instagram being pregnant, or the timely arrival of this email whenever you’re contemplating life’s biggest questions.

Watch up with that? I’m so glad you asked Ross. It’s time to clock on and find out.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias describes our tendency to seek out and upweight information that supports our existing beliefs, while undervaluing, discrediting, ignoring or avoiding information that runs counter. The more emotional or deeply held the belief, the more susceptible to Confirmation Bias we seem to be.

An oft-cited experiment carried out by Lord, Ross and Lepper in 1979 provides us with a striking demonstration of the Confirmation Bias in action. The researchers gathered two opposing groups of students; one who were pro-capital punishment, believing it to be an effective deterrent of crime, and the other against, believing it had no effect at all.

Each of the highly-opinionated groups were asked to review two studies: one of which contained strong, irrefutable evidence in support of capital punishment’s impact on crime reduction, while the other contained equally strong evidence against.

Lo and behold, the students in favour of capital punishment found the material that supported their stance to be highly credible, while regarding the other study as entirely unconvincing. The students who held the opposite view found the reverse.

When the students were finally asked to restate their views in light of the new evidence, both groups doubled down on their initial beliefs; pro-punishment-ers were adamant about its ability to reduce crime, while the anti-punishment-ers remained staunchly unconvinced (reminder: the groups reviewed identical studies!).

As humans, we really love being right. Two other things we really love are conserving mental energy and appearing consistent to others — both of which are compromised when we change our worldview.

Confirmation Bias explains why we enthusiastically click the first Google result that backs our argument, and why it feels like Facebook is listening to us (c’mon, how many ads for products you weren’t ‘just talking about’ did you mindlessly scroll past without noticing?).

There’s no doubt that we check our clocks, watches and phones dozens, if not hundreds of times each day. And with every peek, I’m sorry to say, the odds of it being 11:11 remain a paltry 1 in 720 (or 1 in 1440 for the military time inclined). Where Confirmation Bias kicks in, is in us not noticing (clocking?) any other time quite so much. And how could we, with all of the gorgeous symmetry and wish granting magic wrapped up in the wonderous 11:11?

Unless we’re a brand that’s fresh to market, it’s all but guaranteed that buyers will have some preconceived perception about who we are or what we stand for. Instead of battling uphill trying to change people’s minds, we should look for ways to lean into and dial up what they already believe to be true. Sure, it might take some reinterpreting or a little creative license, but the truth is usually the best place to start (VW’s ‘Think Small’ and ‘We’re number two’ by Avis are classic examples).

If the aspirations for the brand are completely at odds with what the masses already believe, then either strap yourself in for a long, expensive, ‘transformational’ journey ahead, or consider acquiring, partnering or spinning up a new brand for a fresh start instead (a la Toyota with Lexus in 1989).

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why everyone thinks they’re a great driver here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Confirmation Bias on episode 6 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

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Check out Dan’s contribution in Mumbrella on Plotting a path through the COVID pandemic: The trials and tribulations of travel marketing

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