Recognizing Biases: How Our Minds Fool Us

By: Jeff Klein

My late grandmother, when criticized or misunderstood, would often say “we don’t see ourselves.”

While we don’t necessarily respond this way to our clients, customers, colleagues or employers, the truth is, they generally don’t – see themselves, that is, or even know what they are thinking. None of us do.

Most of what goes on in our minds happens “under the hood” – as Neuroscientist David Eagleman illuminates in his best-selling book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. And while we think we make decisions, decisions apparently emerge – almost magically – from internal processes that are invisible to us.

The internal processes that generate our behavior and decisions are informed by unconscious biases and other patterns and program. Whether hard-wired through biological evolution or deeply implanted through cultural programming, these patterns pretty much rule the day.

Here are a few of the many unconscious biases that inform our perspectives, orientations and actions:

Confirmation bias: The tendency to seek evidence that agrees with our position and dismiss evidence that does not.

Denial bias: The tendency to discount or disbelieve an important and uncomfortable fact.

Endowment effect: The tendency to demand much more to give up an object than you would be willing to pay to acquire it.

Information overload bias: The tendency to place too much attention on information, even when it’s barely relevant.

Instant gratification bias: The tendency to minimize the future and cave in to short-term highs.

Planning fallacy: The tendency to underestimate the time is takes to complete a task.

What does this mean for business and what can we do about it?

Well, given that business is comprised of people and this is how people function, this is how we function in business – largely driven by unconscious programs and patterns.

So what can we do about this? First thing, is to recognize that they exist and that this is the way we generally function. By recognizing that they exist, we can notice when they are at play – making the unconscious, conscious, which is the first step in mitigating their effect. We can also engage in practices like mindfulness mediation that cultivate our capacity for Conscious Awareness – slowing down our thinking and recognizing its the content and process. And we can build structures, like Holacracy, for bringing a collective awareness to inform our thinking and decision making.

The bottom line

We really don’t see ourselves and things are usually not what they appear to be. And to top it all off, the self (who would be making the decisions) doesn’t really exist as we know it, but that’s another story!

For more insights into how our minds work and how we orient to our experience, check out Being Human 2012.

Please join us for conversation on our Facebook page.

Jeff Klein is CEO of Working for Good, a company that activates, produces and facilitates mission-based, Stakeholder Engagement Marketing™ campaigns and Conscious Culture development programs.

Jeff is a trustee and member of the executive committee of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. and authored the award-winning book, Working for Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living. He is producing the first annual Being Human 2012 event, March 24, 2012, Palace of Fine Arts Theater, San Francisco, and hosts a weekly web-radio program called It’s Just Good Business.

[Image credit: Ars Electronica, Flickr]

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