Abstract

A training from the NeuroLeadership Institute.

“Knowing bias will help you stop being biased.” This is not true. Bias in the brain operates automatically, unconsciously, and habitually.

If you have a brain, you have bias.

Cognitive biases — mental shortcuts we use to process the world around us. They occur automatically and unconsciously. These biases cause problems:

  • Errors in thinking — in our efforts to simplify, we overlook important information or assume we already know it.
  • Rushed decisions.
  • Suboptimal outcomes — applying the same solution to a different context and expecting the same result.

There are more than 150 cognitive biases. The SEEDS® model categorizes them into 5 categories:

  1. Similarity a. Brains automatically categorize people as in group or out group. This is why we are biased to feeling more comfortable with people like ourselves. b. Biases in this category include in-group bias and out-group bias.
  2. Expedience a. Thinking critically uses a lot of energy. To save energy, we use shortcuts. If it feels right, it must be true. b. Biases in this category include confirmation bias and availability bias.
  3. Experience a. Our brains are wired to make us believe that we see the world as it is — that our perceptions are giving us the full picture. b. Biases in this category include blind spot bias and fundamental attribution error.
  4. Distance a. The brain’s proximity network measures distance in time and space, but assigns greater value to things that are neither. b. Biases in this category include temporal discounting and affective forecasting.
  5. Safety a. The brain’s network for detecting threat is larger than detecting rewards. We place more importance on potential losses than potential gains.
    b. Biases in this category include loss aversion and framing effects.

Approach

  1. Label — we must label a bias before we can mitigate it.
  2. Mitigate — minimize the effect of bias as much as possible.
  3. Engage

Label

To label bias:

  1. Recognize unconscious bias may be present
  2. Pause and consider bias triggers
  3. Identify and label bias
Do lessDo more
Assume your decisions are 100% conscious and objectiveExplicitly acknowledge that decisions are subject to unconscious influences
Try to fight making biased decisions all the timeIdentify critical decisions that can be derailed by bias
Take a universal mitigation approach to decision makingIdentify and mitigate specific bias triggers

Resources:

Mitigate

We cannot turn knowing about bias into doing something about bias without the right strategies.

Strategies:

  1. Preventative measures
  2. In the moment strategies
  3. If/then planning
BiasLook out forMitigation strategy
SimilarityDecisions involving peopleFind commonalities with others to move them to your in-group
ExpedienceHurried decisionsPaint a complete picture by gathering relevant information and questioning your initial assumptions
ExperienceWe tend to prefer our own ideasSeek outside perspectives before moving forward with a decision
DistanceUndervaluing people and resources at a distanceImagine distance is not a factor when assessing people or resources
SafetyBeing overly cautious in decision-makingConsider if you were giving advice on this risk to someone else — would your decision change?

In the Moment Mitigation

  • Situation: a team meeting in which a new vendor is being selected.
  • A: “I want to work with Darrell. I feel like he gets us.”
  • B: “Let’s imagine we know all the vendors really well. Who is the most likely to deliver the best outcome?”

If/Then Plan Mitigation

  • Situation: a team meeting with some members in person, others remote.
  • If/then plan: call on people on the phone to speak first.

Resources

Engage

Engage with others to counteract bias. Discuss bias in a non-threatening, accountable way.

Example

Situation: panel making decision to finalize hiring decision between two candidates.

  • One candidate went to same school as 2 from the panel.
  • Panel leader says “Let’s be careful to avoid similarity bias.”
  • Panelist imagines that both candidates attended the same school.

This eliminates the in-group advantage of one of the candidates.

Roadblocks to Bias Mitigation

  • Bias blind spot — a type of Experience Bias that states it is much easier to spot bias in others than ourselves.
  • Groupthink — a decision-making phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group cohesion or for reaching a conclusion in a short amount of time becomes more important than making the best choices.

Engaging others in constructive conversations about bias helps us overcome these and other roadblocks.

In bias mitigation, diversity means stimulating people in the room to think differently and bringing different people into the room. By bringing in diversity, the group assesses information more carefully, resulting in superior performance on complex tasks.

Resources