“Bias” or “unconscious bias” came into our corporate lives in the last several years. Some of us even went to training, received basic understanding, mainly about gender or race bias. Having the unconscious bias in our agenda is a positive step towards less defective decision making, even to a more inclusive world. However, gender and race biases are only the tip of the iceberg. A small part of the games that our subconscious play.
In the last few decades, with the advancement in Neuroscience, we know much more about our brain and consciousness. Word is, as much as 40 percent of our daily behavior is habitual*. That means our subconscious have a dramatic effect on our daily work life as well as our normal life. Here I included a list of biases. It is a long list. And every time you read a bias, you will think: “maybe I have that one as well”. That’s healthy.
I focus on the business effects of these biases. How they affect a leader while taking a decision or leading a discussion. How are we steered by our subconscious rather than facts and figures in any part of our work life.
Here is the list of common biases*:
- Anchoring – Focusing on one factor, often the first encountered, when making a decision
- Clustering illusion – Seeing phantom patterns in random events
- Confirmation bias – Preferentially seeking and recalling information that confirms your preconceptions
- Congruence bias – Testing ideas by seeking evidence that supports rather than refutes them
- Endowment effect – Valuing things more highly simply because they belong to you
- Fundamental attribution error – Attributing people’s behaviours to their personality, not the situation
- Gambler’s fallacy – Believing that past random events alter the likelihood of future ones
- Hyperbolic discounting – Overvaluing what’s available now relative to what you can have later
- In-group bias – Overestimating the abilities and values of your own group relative to others
- Negativity bias – Paying more attention to bad news and feedback than good
- Projection bias – Assuming that most people think like you and hold the same beliefs
- Status quo bias – Favouring decisions that will leave things just as they are
We all have some or all of those biases, it is human. There are also ways to limit the effect of those in our daily lives. Some experts find the solution in constant self reflection and mindfulness. Some others handle this by changing habits with triggers and cues to subconscious. Any solution takes considerable energy and discipline, but biases can be limited.
Going towards a digital age, we want to believe that the decisions in companies are taken by careful examination of data and fact checking. But we all know that’s not the case. A lot of the decisions are taken on the spot, probably having a few biases in effect. A few of my favorites: hyperbolic discounting. Shouldn’t we know which of our executives are weaker towards that bias and take short term decisions? Wouldn’t that be a great development area for that leader? What about Fundamental attribution error? And, last one, hands up if you worked with a boss heavy on the confirmation bias. Right?!
We know very little of human brain, and the things we know -thanks to science- we are very late to adapt to business life, let alone our daily lives. With a disciplined approach we can have much better leaders, a healthier work life and more successful organizations.
Science people should take more time to educate the rest of us, and more of us in business should hear them out. It is much better than only trusting the people with “extensive experience in the job” or consultants with rather outdated information. Isn’t it?
*The list of biases are taken from the article “Lifting the lid on the unconscious” by Emma Young published in New Scientist July Issue. https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23931880-400-lifting-the-lid-on-the-unconscious/
** The original idea was from a colleague Alan Triggs, who instantly said, “we should assess our executives for those”. Thanks Alan!
If you want to start reading about those, Kahneman’s “Thinking fast and slow” is a good light reading. Then you can move to more complex ones. The ideas and arguments in this article are a result of my consulting experience, own network and research. They are very subjective. I trust the goodwill of the reader and the understanding of a constructive collaboration. My company can not be held accountable of any of the arguments above.
About the author:
Burak Bakkaloglu is Head of HR – Northern Europe and Central Europe at Ericsson. Leading the people function for 19 countries with approx 11.000 employees including sales, delivery, R&D Centers and Manufacturing Site. A business with a complex product and solution portfolio and diverse talent demographic.
“I believe in roles that allow you create a positive impact and push you to do better.”