The truth about Jesus, Trump, Beyoncé and the Secret Bias
Have you heard the one about Donald Trump, Beyoncé Knowles and Jesus Christ? No? Well neither had I before last Thursday. But believe it or not, two of those three titanic figures have something in common.
But which two and why?
Donald and Beyoncé are alive and kicking, I hear you cry. Correct! But wrong!
Jesus and Donald caught / continue to catch the attention of the authorities. Correct! But wrong!
One more try.
Beyoncé sang about halos and Jesus wore one?
Correct! But wrong!
If you haven’t got it by now, fear not, it took me a good half hour to crack it too, and then only with the help of others. Tip: the connection is literally staring you in the face.
Or if singers, politicians and deities aren’t your thing, have you heard the one about anchoring, availability, confirmation, narrative and representativeness?
So that one’s not as easy to roll of the tongue, but hear me out.
Whether you know what connects those three people or not, there’s a reason you would still prefer to talk about Trump, Beyoncé and Jesus rather than the anchoring and all that.
It’s called bias.
And in this case, the Availability and Representativeness biases. Just two of hundreds on the wheel of cognitive bias. Availability is about how quickly you can recall something without having to think about it.
For example, if asked to name a film with a big bad shark in it, Jaws is almost certain to come to mind because it’s way beyond famous, which makes it quick and easy to recall.
And Representativeness is about how we will prefer a new thing if it looks like something else we’re already familiar with.
If you walk down the toothpaste aisle, you expect to see toothpaste tubes that are tall and straight, red, white and blue. Not round and squishy and fluorescent orange. You want what you expect, you expect what you want.
How do I know all this?
Because I went to an awesome event all about cognitive biases at the Norfolk Network last week.
Hosted by Katie Fisher – and Tom with the exotic surname* – of The User Story, this workshop was not what I expected. I knew it would be interesting, amusing and useful, but it turned out to be so much more.
Katie – a social psychologist – made a brief introduction about what cognitive biases were and gave a few examples; a delightful start.
But then she announced she was dividing us into groups and that we were going to take part in a puzzle. And this was the real genius behind the workshop.
Katie knew that telling each of us we had biases wasn’t going to cut it.
Because telling people they have biases might sound like an insult, or ridiculous, as though you were telling people you just saw a sparkling rainbow unicorn fly past the window: they won’t believe you because such things need to be seen with their own eyes.
So that’s what Katie did.
She helped us see our own biases with our own eyes.
By first dividing us into four groups and giving us pens and paper.
But it didn’t stop there. Then she presented us with three names and asked us to find the connection between them and offer up a fourth name that we thought would honour the connection.
When we gave her that other name we also had to state our level of confidence with our guess.
Find the rule that connects the names. Offer a new name. State confidence. Simple.
Except it wasn’t.
It took all of us – four groups of seven people – no less than four rounds and sixteen or so names to finally have 100% confidence.
Which is both odd, amusing, enlightening and awesome all at the same time.
Because one team confessed at the end that they thought they had discovered the correct connection in the first round, after just four names. But at the time, they only had 50% confidence in their guess.
The question is: why the lack of confidence?
Because of group bias.
And they weren’t just in a group, they were in a group of groups. Quadruple whammy.
Their initial guess was in fact 100% correct, but it seems they were too conscious of what the other three groups would offer up, and or had doubters in their own group, so they downgraded their confidence. And not just by a small margin, but by a whopping 50%.
And what’s that if it’s not a beautiful showcase of group bias?
The workshop sadly came to a close, but Katie wrapped up neatly by offering us solace and some crucial take-aways:
Give yourself a break
We all have these in built biases, no one is immune. And yes, not believing you have them is called the Overconfidence bias.
Being aware of our biases is part of how we beat them.
But don’t beat them too much. They’re not evil. They’re part of our biological evolution and for the most part have served us pretty well over the last hundred thousand years or so. Mother Nature would have gotten rid of them otherwise.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be tripped up from time to time, especially if you’re in a rush and thinking about something that doesn’t involve finding food, avoiding a fight, finding shelter or finding a lover.
Which leads to her second crucial take-away:
Take time to bring in other opinions
Invite people, especially people who have nothing to gain or lose by disagreeing with you. Ask them to look at things from different angles and to check your facts.
The next step?
Call Katie and Tom and ask them to help you and your team understand how biases may be influencing you, your team and your customers.
And then ask them to help you beat those biases, because in doing so you’ll end up making better decisions, and better decisions lead to better outcomes.
But then again, I would say that. I’m biased.
*This cognitive bias cheat sheet is pretty good too. Bookmark it. And just in case you were wondering, Tom’s exotic surname is Haczewksi.