WE ALL 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.”