The impact of bias in the workplace

I design experiences and digital products. Different project, different engagement. I work with independent people with different sets of skills and approaches to tackling the tasks. I also outsource to different companies or people. This can lead to all kinds of human traps and false efficiency. We could say that systematic errors are biases. In my experience, I mostly recognize the Overconfidence, Hindsight and Availability biases.

Overconfidence Bias

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In business it is important to be self-confident in order to function successfully and finish projects. The technology environment forces you to innovate constantly, make bold decisions and keep your mind positive even in hectic times. This means that confidence is positive when it means being a step ahead of your competitors. Being overconfident becomes dangerous when people do not realize that they do not know what they do not know. When they ignore their limits of knowledge, overestimate their own abilities or are afraid to admit when lacking knowledge.

When a new project starts and I meet a new group of people, I tend to trust their expertise. Until they prove me wrong, I believe they are able to finish the task successfully. Every time they only see the bright parts and not consider obstacles, it leads to underestimation of risks, overrun budgets, massively off-track decisions and missed deadlines.

When we face major losses and realize we are losing track of our project because of too many steps forward, we have to adapt the workflow. With more knowledge on the topic, it will be easier to reach better conclusions. That way you will be confronted with a contrary viewpoint to examine.

Hindsight bias

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Another common perception bias is the Hindsight bias. “We knew it all along” is the most common sentence when making past performance evaluations. The mistake appears obvious, but it is just hindsight. You could not have known in advance. When you have conclusions in your hands, it is easy to see what did not seem so obvious not long ago. We all tend to be experts after events have already occurred. When we learn from experience, we think we predicted our future, but we didn’t. Our mind does not have the ability to reconstruct past states of our beliefs. Once we adopted a new sense of the world, we forgot immediately what we used to believe before our mind changed. That is robust cognitive illusion.

This becomes dangerous when we evaluate decision makers based on the outcome, not the quality of a decision they made before. We tend to blame them for not being able to see something so obvious.

Actions that seemed responsible in foresight can look completely irresponsible in hindsight. Just imagine how many people would be rich if we could predict the future, for example Stock Markets. One solution to overcoming this bias is too keep in mind that we cannot evaluate our actions based on the outcomes, but rather take the time to evaluate our decisions. To write down facts and our goals so that we can remember why a decision was made and what was our intention.

Availability bias

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The next workflow problem that we face mostly is the availability bias. Availability is cognitive heuristics in which people make judgments on evidence that comes to mind most easily. They assess probabilities by giving more weight to current or easily recalled information. They tend to forget about examining other alternatives and gathering complete information. They concentrate mostly on news and data recently flowing around them. Personal experiences, pictures, and vivid examples are more available than incidents that happened to others. The problem is that information available on the internet, TV or radio is definitely not representative or relevant, which leads automatically to a distorted view of the world.

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Overemphasizing the most recent information leads to constant overreaction to hearing new information and causing a lot of problems when making critical judgments. This simply means that it is hard to count on decision makers, because they change their minds constantly and underestimate the information that is not available yet.

For example, in my case we lost a lot of time with constant changes of the product. Client was gathering information for a Kickstarter launch of the campaign and calculating what would be the best time to publish the project. He couldn’t decide about which way to follow and the time was never right for him. Each day he found out something else. What ended up happening was that the project was not innovative anymore when it got published.

I know that in many cases it is tempting to think that the latest info is the most relevant, but be aware to use truly representative data. You need to avoid recent effects and stop overreacting about the latest news. Ask yourself what was most influential in your final decision.

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What to do? :)

Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers.

I believe you cannot achieve anything great on your own. When you have a team where everybody is rowing in the same direction, you do not need a rigid formal hierarchical structure. Self-aware people do not need a Manager to plan or assess their actions. Regardless of what they are doing, everybody should be capable of making decisions, managing themselves and taking responsibility for their actions. This also means that everybody is accountable to everyone.

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Foster a culture of curiosity. When you tell people what is expected from them and not how they should do it, they always surprise you with a remarkable outcome. People have to sharpen their saw on a lot of different tasks, so they can realize their full potential. Any person who grows might become a teacher, one who delivers lessons.

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Strive for authenticity over perfection. Engage courageously. Stand up and say out loud you need help, because you might be wrong. Interpret the answers properly and take a look from a different perspective. Gather intelligence in order to face hard realities. Having a team with heart and hustle is worth more than a group of people who need entitlement.

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Teams, like all relationships, evolve over time. You need to understand your employees – what they like and dislike, what they feel as well as think. It is equally important to let them know how much they matter and how much you care about them.

The time is always right to do what is right.

People see the world from a different perspective. That leaves a lot of gaps. To erase the gaps and have a better sense of the world we need to communicate, clear up any misunderstandings with people, have an open communication and create an environment without breakdowns in stressful situations. If you are willing to discuss emotions, you will become a better manager, partner and peer. Trying to manipulate the world around you cannot bring a win-win outcome.

Events + Response = Outcome

Every outcome of your life is a direct result of how you have responded to the events that have happened to you. You cannot change the event, but you have all the powers to change your reaction.

To conclude, effective management is putting first things first.

Have a clear organizational structure with well-thought out responsibilities, roles and direction. Do not make it complex and rigid. Articulate well what needs to be done, concentrate on one task at a time, take responsibility for communicating and actions. Organizations will be effective when people will be self-aware, self-organized, imaginative, conscientious, and will be able to show their independent will.

Make decisions and act accordingly. In other words – walk your talk. Have personal integrity. Stay flexible and adapt fast. Never compromise your principles.

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Thank you for reading.

Let me know about your strategies. :) Let’s keep the conversation going here or on Twitter.

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Thanks for sharing. <3

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