December 2021
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The Leading Edge
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Removing Bias From Decision-Making

 

Removing Bias From Decision-Making

We all like to think that when we reach a decision, we have done so by weighing up all the facts, statistics, pros, cons, equity, knowledge, experience, and anything else that might have a bearing on how we proceed. We believe we have been rational, logical, objective, and fair. Unfortunately, that is rarely, if ever, the case. The biggest reason is that to make a genuinely unbiased decision, we first have to know that reality is a moving target. Our reality is different from someone else’s because we perceive things based on our perceptions. In turn, our perceptions are based on how we see the world, which is tempered by our biases.

Confirmation Bias

The most significant bias that we fall prey to is confirmation bias, sometimes called myside bias. In this case, we pay more attention and give more credence to information that supports what we believe or want to believe. It’s why in the U.S., Republicans tend to watch Fox News and Democrats tune into CNN. We are all susceptible to putting more weight on the things people say that support what we already believe and ignoring or dismissing information that challenges our beliefs. This myside bias is why certain people on the fringes of society genuinely believe things that seem outrageous to the mainstream population. We become increasingly biased when we channel only information that supports what we already think, however misguided that belief might be. We sometimes do this to a dangerous degree.

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is not dissimilar to confirmation bias; however, it is deep-seated to the point where we don’t need to feed it. We automatically tend to favour the opinion of people we find attractive over those we find unattractive. We might think younger people are less reliable but more tech-savvy than older people. We may believe all women are assertive and all men aggressive—or vice versa. We may be convinced that taller people make better managers. We defer to people in uniforms or those with honorifics such as Dr., or perhaps we distrust them.

None of this is consciously activated; it has developed within us, probably from childhood. It is neither right nor wrong necessarily, but we need to be aware of the power of unconscious bias when making decisions. It may appear as a form of prejudice, but prejudice is more often a conscious bias. It’s more about the brain making an instant decision based on a person’s experiences and background; it could be as simple as a gut feeling that black cars are better than red cars, or Chevy’s are more reliable than Ford’s.

The critical point is that there is a winner and a loser, and the result is not based on sound data.

Framing Bias

Framing bias, or “framing bias effect,” is where people make decisions based on how the situation is presented to them rather than on the facts. There are many ways a case can be framed to achieve the desired result. For example, you are shopping for a new casual jacket and see two for sale at $80. The store offers a 20 percent discount on one of them, and the other has a sticker announcing “$16 off.” Assuming you like them equally, which do you choose? Studies have shown that most people will choose the former. “Framing bias effect” kicks in because the percentage discount seems greater than the price reduction. The reverse is true for higher price items. If the jackets had been $750 and the discount on one was 20 percent, and the sticker on the other read “$150 off,” most people will choose the latter.

How you frame a question or a situation will affect your decision, be aware of how you frame things to yourself.

Conclusion

The amount of bias we display when making decisions can significantly affect our lives, especially how we act as leaders. The first step in combatting your biases is to know they exist, learn more about them, and take time to assess your decisions based on that knowledge. Cognitive bias is a vast topic. In this article, we have only scratched the surface; we urge you to investigate further.

To get you started, take a step back, imagine floating above yourself and looking down— the more disconnected you can make yourself, the better. Now, try to see the bigger picture, strip away the biases, see all sides of the situation. It’s tough to get a handle on our biases, but the rewards are worth the struggle.

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Removing Bias From Decision-Making

 

Challenging Your Perspectives

In the first article this month, we talked about perspective being critical, in that our perspective defines our reality, but that it is just that, our reality, not THE reality. In this article, we ask you to challenge your perspective on a bunch of things. Like confronting our biases, challenging our perspective, the way we see things can be unsettling at first, but it is nevertheless a worthwhile, even valuable exercise.

Let’s first look at how you perceive your business. You are passionate and protective about what you sell. You are no doubt convinced that there’s not a whole you could do to improve it. From your perspective, you’ve done everything to make it perfect, and you are convinced that your customers and those who are yet to become customers will see things the same way—why wouldn’t they?

We all perceive things a certain way, and it takes a lot for us to change our perception of something. The challenge with perceptions is that they blind us to other options, to potential improvements. If you are willing to open your eyes and heart to alternative realities, you may find a whole new world of opportunity. Here are five exercises to help examine your product or service from a different perspective.

  1. Sit down with someone who would never purchase your product. For example, a child, a teenager, a senior, a mechanic, a professor, a politician, and ask them to describe your product, service, company. Keep a log of their observations.
  2. Sit down with your product or a brochure of your service and start asking why? Why is it this colour? Why is it packaged in this way? Why don’t we have a different model, version, plan? Why are the majority of our clients a certain age, gender, socio-economic group? Why don’t we offer … ?” Act like a five-year-old and keep asking why, why, why?
  3. Seek out a demographic who could use what you sell but don’t. This could be as wide as males or females, as narrow as people in their 30s, or couples with dual incomes and no kids. It doesn’t matter. Approach several people in the categories you choose and ask them what they think of the product or service. Encourage them to say what they like and don’t like, and ask you questions. Ask them why they wouldn’t be interested in purchasing. You might discover ways to redefine your product for a new market or create something new.
  4. Go across the street, figuratively or literally, and look at your business through your competitor’s eyes. What do they do differently, and why? What do they “see” that you don’t? How does their customer service differ from yours? More importantly, why? How do their customers differ from yours? Put yourself in their shoes—how do you think they perceive you? It will be difficult but do not project your perceptions onto what they might think.
  5. Carry out an extensive online search for whatever it is you sell. Look at everything that other companies do regarding the product, packaging, pricing, delivery, marketing, anything, and everything. Look at your industry from a new perspective. Imagine you are starting all over, shake off your current prejudices and start from a blank slate.

The quickest way a business can begin to lose market share is when they become complacent and accept the status quo as the only way to go. Dismiss the validity of what you see as reality and realize that it is only one reality of many. Open your mind to a world of possibilities, a world where there are many perspectives, all of which are important to the success of your business.

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Removing Bias From Decision-Making

 

Coach's Corner - Learning from Failure

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley

In their Nobel Prize-winning research work, psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky explain why we are so averse to failure. They discovered that the effect of loss is twice as great as the gain from a win; this explains why so many of us have an inherent fear of failure and a propensity to avoid experiencing a loss or a failure.

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” - Paulo Coelho

How do you convert a fear of failure into a productive learning experience? What strategies could you employ to ensure you learn from your failures? How can you recognize that they are part of your move toward success and not a punishment?

A professor at Harvard Business School, Amy Edmondson, categorizes mistakes into three broad areas: preventable, complexity-related, and intelligent. She also talks about mistakes or failures as being on a spectrum from blameworthy to praiseworthy.

Mistakes considered blameworthy are preventable as they relate to procedures that are tried and true. When one tries to cut corners and deviates from what works best, the result can be catastrophic. We can blame these failures on an individual; they account for a small percentage of failures.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” - Thomas A. Edison

With complexity-related and intelligent mistakes or failures, we are dealing with complicated situations or experimentation and research. These mistakes fall mainly within the spectrum of praiseworthy and account for the vast majority of failures that can lead to learning, and in time succeeding.

It is essential to recognize that failure is part of the equation when striving for success. A baby falls many times before standing and walking. Everyone needs to try things without fear of recrimination. When assigning tasks to other people, you have to realize that trial and error, in many situations, is the way they will learn and master. Look at each case individually and understand and recognize the characteristics of failure. If failure is preventable or even dangerous, then you should address those factors. At other times, letting people fail provides them with valuable learning opportunities.

From which failures have you learned the most? How can these failures help in your future successes? What can you do to ensure that failure leads to learning and not an embarrassment?

“Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.” – Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon

Paul Abra, Motivated Coaching

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