Life without biases Part 1: Is it possible?

Life without biases Part 1 Is it possibleThe events of the recent years have clearly shown the repercussions of bad decision-making, both on a personal level when people were buying things they cannot afford; on a corporate level when companies kept pouring money into unsuccessful projects, neglecting all kinds of efficiency monitoring; on the national level when whole countries went bankrupt, and on the global level when international policies were put into action based on ideology and without considering their possible practical outcomes. If you followed the news even a little, I think you know what I’m talking about here.

All this has led to a growing interest in using our brains in a more efficient way than we do now, drawing specific attention to a problem of being biased as a clear example of doing it wrong. So what is Bias, actually? It’s time we deal with the subject in a proper manner, AnyaWorkSmart style 🙂

Let’s start with a definition. Bias is a thinking pattern that leads to systematic mistakes of judgment. Read it again.

What do I mean by this definition?

Basically, two things:

  1. Bias is in your head (“a thinking pattern“),
  2. It matters only as much as it hampers your performance (“leads to mistakes of judgment“) and does it in a systematic way.

Example: “Self-protecting Bias

(relating your own achievements to internal factors [“It’s because I’m the best”], and your failings to external factors [“The sun was in my eyes”], while doing the opposite in regard to the judgment of outcomes produced by others [“He got lucky”, “It’s because he’s a loser”])

is a Bias because it may inhibit you from acknowledging the achievements of others while overemphasizing your own. This may lead to reduced motivation of your Team Members, hamper their performance and result in losses for your organization.

This definition of Bias is most helpful because it also tells us about the nature of the negative influence that Biases have on our lives. It’s not the fact that Biases exist that insults our intelligence, but the fact that we have to pay for their existence by living in a world molded by the mistakes of judgment they cause. By our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. These mistakes enhance each other, producing a cumulative mistake, whose effect is much more dangerous than the effect of every personal mistake on its own.

If someone has made a judgment mistake (following bias in example above, which may easily affect lessons learned process or resource allocations), there is a great chance that this person will also produce a stream of mistakes that will cause others within the organization and its partners to make new mistakes. These mistakes will lead to losses which will require decisions to be made, but in a biased environment there is a great chance that these decisions would be wrong and the vicious circle will continue spinning on and on.

It is therefore safe to state that the most crucial problem that Biases present to Managers is making it harder to reach good decisions. They do it in many ways, but you can sum up their interference into two steps:

  1. Biases multiply the quantity of decisions needed to be made by disrupting the performance of the organization on all levels, leading to a decreased quality of these decisions. As more and more mistakes are made and issues arise, the Manager finds himself in greater stress, which, in turn, leads to poorer decisions.
  2. Biases distort the flow of information at all stages: to the decision-maker, within a decision-maker and from the decision-maker to the field, which leads (among other things) to incomplete data, wrong prioritizing and incorrect application of good decisions into practice. The last one is especially dangerous, as it may cause good practice to be labeled as “bad” because of improper application.

This state of affairs exists for a long time and could not be solved by any magical solution. But as they say in Disaster Management, what can’t be prevented can at least be mitigated. In my next posts on the subject I’ll try to outline the basic knowledge components you will need to know to confront Biases from a better position.

4 thoughts on “Life without biases Part 1: Is it possible?

  1. Fantastic topic to write about. The more we know about our biases the better our chances at mitigating their impact.

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