People thinking together can achieve remarkable results. 2012
saw the discovery of the Higgs boson using the 17-mile-long Large Hadron
Collider; the successful lowering of the
NASA Curiosity Lander to the surface of Mars by its sky crane (verified 14
minutes later when its radio signals finally reached earth); and Apple reaching
a market capitalization of $375B, placing it first among technology companies.
Human rationality made all these things possible.
Of course, humans aren't always rational. Sometimes it’s
obvious, if not in the moment, then after a bit of reflection – like that
stupid comment I made when I was angry! But what’s more remarkable is when
irrationality is more subtle. Cognitive
bias is a departure from rationality that extensive studies show to be part
of human nature. This is not bias brought on by ignorance or poor up-bringing; it
is about short cuts, strategies our powerful but limited brains use to keep up
with our complex, ever-changing environment*.
Scientists have identified an ever-expanding list of over
100 predictable human biases, including
- Social biases – favoring the in-group; herd
instinct; overemphasis on personality-based explanations of other’s behavior;
- Memory biases –recalling the past in a
self-serving manner; the “I knew it all along” effect; mistaking ideas
suggested by a questioner for memory; …
- Decision-making biases – expectations affecting
perception; interpretations confirming preconceptions; wishful thinking; …
- Probability/belief biases – stereotyping;
judging arguments based on believably of conclusions; expectations influencing
experimental results; …
Significantly, these biases can be unconscious, cropping up
even when we are wary of them.
One of the most important things an organization can do is to
filter out the human biases that inevitably cloak good ideas. It’s easier to do
this when an organization recognizes that bias is not a flaw to be eradicated,
but a fundamental feature of human thinking. Organizations transcend biases by
- Valuing open dialog and mutual learning over
- Honestly measuring performance against objective
measures of success
- Encouraging productive collisions between diverse
points of view.