WE HAVE BLIND SPOTS

We  don’t  want  to  take  the  chance  of  becoming  disloyal  to  the  boss  by pointing out his faults. It is not easy to change the boss. This problem is more troublesome in small groups, where one of our motives is to exchange niceties. In small groups, it is important to maintain cordial relations with colleagues.  “The cosier and the more close-knit the group,  the  less  incentive  you  have  to  stir  the  waters,”  points  out  a management expert. Our loyalty often tends to overprotect, and often that tempts us to go the wrong way. When we don’t want to discuss an issue, and if that is possible, it is not discussed. It is a simple matter. It is as simple a matter as plotting points on a graph paper. The points, that are not as they should be, we have two options; either we ignore them, or should be willing to explain the deviation. It is always easier to ignore than to explain. Why bother to find out if it was due to experimental technique,  or  due  to  some  new  phenomena  that  were happening? Either way, it is additional work.

We make wrong decisions, often consciously. Bias and prejudice is one of the reasons for our wrong decisions. Bias arises due to our distorted perceptions and wishful thinking.  We commonly rely  more  on  a  certain  piece  of information, as we think, other alternatives might not work that effectively. We see certain things more positively than they really are. Conformity to peer pressure is one of the reasons for our bias. A New York Times Magazine article talks about a psychologist.  The first time he tried to test a hypothesis, he failed, as his data did not follow a predictable story line. He ‘created’ the data set, as he did not want to redo the experiment, nor he wanted to face “the occasional (or frequent) failure that comes with honestly done science.”  Says a management consultant, we make two kinds of mistakes when an ‘undiscussable’  issue  is  raised:  one,  we  express  blames  in  a  way  that  escalates  stress  and  conflict,  and  two,  we  use  ambiguous  language  that enables people to avoid the problem. When companies have a culture in which  managers  are more  interested  in  hiding  things  than  solving  problems,”  there  is  little  anyone  can  do  to  help,  writes  Knowledge  at Wharton. We are designed to make blunders.  It  is  not  personality  or  intelligence  that  is responsible, Joseph Hallinan argues. The very way we think, see and remember sets us up for mistakes. We are subconsciously biased. We are overconfident of our own abilities, and that leads us to making mistakes.

We all have bias blind spots. Our yardstick of judgment is different for those whom  we  like  and  those  whom  we  dislike.  We  underestimate  the influence  of  self-interest  on  our  own  judgments  and  decisions,  but overestimate  its  influence  on  others.  We cross-check  the  bad  news,  but readily accept the good news. We accept things, not necessarily based on merit, but merely because of our familiarity with the thing. We underestimate future uncertainties. We overestimate the degree to which others should agree with us. We overestimate our own ability and underestimate others’ ability.  What was said matters less than who said it. Biases are due to our subjective perception and experience.  Shankar Vedantam says that subtle biases in faraway minds can produce real storms in our lives. “Globalization and technology, and the intersecting fault lines of religious extremism, economic upheaval, demographic change, and  mass migration have amplified the effects of hidden biases,” says he.  We attribute our success to our abilities and talents and our failures to bad luck,  external  factors and  destiny.  Vedantam adds, “On the way out, the idea of humility never occurred to me. It was only at the moment I turned back, when I had to go against the current that I even realized the current existed.”

Bias in favour of hostile beliefs and preferences is built into the fabric of the human mind, says Daniel Kahneman. He says that our brains are highly attuned to negative biases. Our biases never vanish; they take new forms. It is not easy to ignore the  “subjective first person view of things.” All biased decisions  are  not  necessarily  unfair  and  bad.  A  fair  decision  ensures impartiality, consistency and transparency. Some among us like familiarity and certainty. Some like uncertainty and novelty. Those who like familiarity and  certainty  are  less  receptive  to  new  ideas  and  are  biased  towards predictability and clarity. Those who love novelty love to face new situations and are biased towards such people and issues. The most important message that emanates from Vedantam’s writing is that “Good people are not those who lack flaws, the brave are not those who feel no fear, and the generous are not those who never feel selfish. Extraordinary people are not extraordinary because they are invulnerable to unconscious biases. They are extraordinary because they chose to do something about it.”

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