We know that unconscious bias happens in all of us. We categorize, we find patterns, and we like to group people. We decide who is in our “in group” – and then we favor our group. This ability to tell who is a friend, and who is a foe, helped early humans survive.
We like to think we are all reasonable open-minded humans who do not pre-judge other others, but much of bias happens hidden away from our conscious decisions. We all have bias. Our unconscious mind is wrong, often, especially on matters that truly would benefit from thinking rationally.
Daniel Kahneman, the creator of behavioral economics, pointed out in his book Thinking Fast and Slow: our unconscious mind is fast, and our deliberate mind is slow. Human reason left to its own devices is likely to engage in systematic errors. In order to make better decisions, we need to be aware of these biases and seek workarounds.
The RSA recently published an in depth podcast, animated video, and position briefing covering much of the scientific consensus adapted by Professor Uta Frith on why we suffer from unconscious bias, and what we can do about it.
The most impressive aspect of this analysis what the RSA then prescribes for itself. The RSA stands for The Royal Society, a Fellowship of the world’s “most eminent scientists” and has substantial influence over which scientists gets recognized, and determines whose science is more valid and worthy of acclaim. In order to achieve more fairness and improve the quality of decision making on panels, members are encouraged to do the following:
- Deliberately slow down decision making
- Reconsider reasons for decisions
- Question cultural stereotypes
- Monitor for unconscious bias (it’s easier to see bias in others, rather than in ourselves)
In sum – slow down, learn from others, reconsider, and question your stereotypes. What stands out is the rare advice in our busy life hacking get-things-done world to actually take a moment to slow down and think.
We know we need to slow down. Through the collective sharing of life hacking tips we recommend taking time for ourselves, journaling, meditating, doing yoga. But when do we move from the benefits of individual self-care to the moments in our life that have massive impact beyond our individual sanity: the decisions we make as individuals, in groups, in organizations. We can overcome some of our limitations through learning and through enlightenment.
Let’s adopt this great life hacking tip for all of us that have unconscious bias. The next time you make a big decision about a person you are about to hire, or invest in, or back, take a moment, deliberate, reconsider, reflect, and question your assumptions.
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