3 Cognitive Biases Perpetuating Racism at Work — and How to Overcome Them

Life is a series of paradoxes. We’re living in a time of many people either temporarily or permanently losing their jobs while other companies are struggling to find qualified people to hire.

When we dip into the labor pool, are we limiting our searches through something called Cognitive Bias?

I ran across this article at the World Economic Forum by Adwoa Bagalini, its Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion Lead. He identifies three cognitive biases and shares some ideas for overcoming. Not to give away a punchline, but most of us should be students of W. Edwards Deming and/or Taiichi Ohno and should have learned about changing the process, not the individual.

From the paper.

We do know is that lasting, positive change is difficult to achieve without deliberate, sustained effort informed by reliable data that is free from bias. And it’s important not to underestimate the role cognitive bias can play in undermining these efforts – and to stay vigilant in spotting and mitigating it.

What is cognitive bias?

Human brains are hardwired to take shortcuts when processing information to make decisions, resulting in “systematic thinking errors”, or unconscious bias. When it comes to influencing our decisions and judgments around people, cognitive or unconscious bias is universally recognized to play a role in unequal outcomes for people of colour.

1. Moral licensing

This is when people derive such confidence from past moral behaviour that they are more likely to engage in immoral or unethical ways later. In a 2010 study, researchers argued that moral self-licensing occurs “because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard”, and future problematic behaviour does not evoke the same feelings of negative self-judgment that it otherwise would.

Moral licensing may help explain the limitations of corporate unconscious bias training in creating an anti-racist work environment, an effect which has already been observed when it comes to tackling gender inequality.

2. Affinity bias

This is our tendency to get along with others who are like us, and to evaluate them more positively than those who are different. Our personal beliefs, assumptions, preferences, and lack of understanding about people who are not like us may lead to repeatedly favouring ‘similar-to-me’ individuals.

Many hiring managers have a hard time articulating their organization’s specific culture, or explaining what exactly they mean when they say “culture fit”, leading to this being misused to engage employees that managers feel they will personally relate to.

3. Confirmation bias

This is the tendency to seek out, favour, and use information that confirms what you already believe. The other side of this is that people tend to ignore new information that goes against their preconceived notions, leading to poor decision-making.

Many people’s perceptions of others with different identities and with whom they have limited interaction, is strongly influenced by media depictions and longstanding cultural stereotypes.

For example, a 2017 study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people tended to perceive young Black men as taller, heavier, and more muscular than similarly sized white men, and hence more physically threatening.

How to overcome unconscious bias

1. Change systems, not individuals

The main reason unconscious bias training programmes fail to have the desired effect in creating lasting change, is that they are focused on changing individual behaviours while leaving largely untouched the systems that enabled those behaviours to thrive.

2. Slow down and act deliberately

Bias is most likely to affect decision-making when decisions are made quickly, according to Stanford University psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt, who studies implicit bias in police departments.

3. Set concrete goals and work towards them

Data is essential to making real progress on diversity goals, and especially important when it comes to mitigating the effects of bias because it provides an objective measure of what has improved – or worsened – over time.

The Philosophy of Bullsh*t and How To Avoid Stepping In It

Press releases are the lifeblood of journalist enterprise. These let editors and writer know when something new happens or a new product is launched at a company we are interested. For me, these were more important when I worked at magazines. Even now they help when I hear about something and I want the company’s words describing what they are up to.

We quickly learn which are the companies and the PR people we can trust and listen to and which send either off-target things or fill their prose with fluff. A friend once ran a “PR Hall of Shame” with the worst examples of press releases. I told him he was a bit off the mark. Usually the culprit is not the professional PR person. Look instead to the marketing manager or the business owner for the culprit who packs as much vague and meaningless jargon as possible into the prose.

With that background and context, I introduce an article from one of my favorite sites—Big Think. A philosopher’s guide to detecting nonsense and getting around it by Scotty Hendricks.

  • A professor in Sweden has a bold on idea on what BS, pseudoscience, and pseudophilosophy actually are. 
  • He suggests they are defined by a lack of “epistemic conscientiousness” rather than merely being false. 
  • He offers suggestions on how to avoid producing nonsense and how to identify it on sight. 

There is a lot of BS going around these days. Fake cures for disease are being passed off by unscrupulous hacks, the idea that the world is flat has a shocking amount of sincere support online, and plenty of people like to suggest there isn’t a scientific consensus on climate change. It can be hard to keep track of it all.

Even worse, it can be difficult to easily define all of it in a way that lets people know what they’re encountering is nonsense right away. Luckily for us, Dr. Victor Moberger recently published an essay in Theoria on what counts as bullsh*t, how it interacts with pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy, and what to do about it.

The essay “Bullshit, Pseudoscience and Pseudophilosophy” considers much of the nonsense we encounter and offers a definition that allows us to move forward in dealing with it.

Dr. Moberger argues that what makes something bullshit is a “lack of epistemic conscientiousness,” meaning that the person arguing for it takes no care to assure the truth of their statements. This typically manifests in systemic errors in reasoning and the frequent use of logical fallacies such as ad hominem, red herring, false dilemma, and cherry picking, among others.

This makes bullsh*t different from lying, which involves caring what the truth is and purposely moving away from it, or mere indifference to truth, as it is quite possible for people pushing nonsense to care about their nonsense being true. It also makes it different from making the occasional mistake with reasoning, occasional errors differ from a systemic reliance on them.

I think this professor is generous, but also he has put his finger on the correct pulse. What do you think?

10 Things You Can Do Today

Good Monday morning (at least for me). Here are 10 things you can do today to change for the better that require zero talent. I snapped the picture, but I didn’t note the source. It’s good. Share widely–especially with younger people.

  1. Being on time
  2. Work ethic
  3. Effort
  4. Energy
  5. Body language
  6. Passion
  7. Doing Extra
  8. Being prepared
  9. Being coachable
  10. Attitude

As Seth Godin says, “Go make a ruckus!”

Practice the Art of Possibility

The elderly Mr. Withers leaned over me and whispered, “What? You’ve been practicing it for three minutes, and you still can’t play it?” (Ben Zander’s early cello teacher to the young Benjamin.)

I just finished a couple of good books last week. This quote was from Benjamin Zander in the book he wrote with his wife Rosamund Stone Zander, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. This is not a new book, but it was recently recommended to me. She is a family therapist and coach. He is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and an amazing teacher. (Search YouTube for Ben Zander and you see examples of marvelous teaching of young musicians.) He also speaks to company executives about leadership.

People, that would be all of us, often try something for a short time, a few minutes, find it difficult, and quit. Meditation, study, eating well, exercising, calming a temper…

The Zanders’ book offers 12 practices for transforming your professional and personal life. “Our practices will take a good deal more than three minutes to master. Additionally, everything you think and feel and see around you will argue against them. So it takes dedication, a leap of faith, and, yes, practicing to get them into your repertoire.

It’s like the old joke about the young man carrying a violin case stopping someone on the street in New York City and asking, “How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” The quick reply, “Practice, my boy, practice.”

This book offers practices that are transformational. Digital transformation spews forth from the lips and computers of many of my colleagues and marketers. However, without personal and professional transformation, we may not be able to take advantage of this digital “revolution.”

These practices are geared toward causing a total shift of posture, perceptions, beliefs, and thought processes. They are about transforming your entire world.

I will not discuss all 12 practices. Rather I’ll pull out a few that I found especially impactful.

Possibility. We can look at obstacles, or we can see possibilities. The action in a universe of possibility may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word—producing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves. Emotions that are often relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.

Contribution. Instead, life is revealed as a place to contribute and we as contributors. Not because we have done a measurable amount of good, but because that is the story we tell.

When I began playing the game of contribution, on the other hand, I found there was no better orchestra than the one I was conducting, no better person to be with than the one I was with; in fact, there was no “better.” In the game of contribution you wake up each day and bask in the notion that you are a gift to others.

The practice of this chapter is inventing oneself as a contribution, and others as well. The steps to the practice are these: 1.  Declare yourself to be a contribution. 2.  Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why. The contribution game appears to have remarkable powers for transforming conflicts into rewarding experiences.

I leave you with this little story about creating a certain culture of humility.

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.

When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?”

“Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously.’” “Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?” “There aren’t any.”

Pick up a copy and read it a couple of times. Then practice.

Book Review: Build Your Own Business

Blog Review Start from Zero

The other day, I received a review copy of Start From Zero: Build Your Own Business, Experience True Freedom by Dane Maxwell.

A further subtitle could be become a millionaire while working only 2-3 hours a day.

Or, become a millionaire by joining his site.

Three basic components of his book include—writing effective ad/marketing copy, make the calls, buy his system. (Not to be cynical. All God’s children need to earn an income somehow.)

Much of the first half or so include ideas I first picked up in the 1980s from Napoleon Hill, Denis Waitley, and Brian Tracy. Then he, a little later, added ideas on neuroplasticity—the finding that you can change and grow your brain through reading and experiences.

His outline of ideas are:

  • The Three Rocks
  • What you don’t need
  • What you do need
  • 4 Brains
  • 7 Skills
  • 15 Examples (people who have done the work and succeeded)
  • 4 Growth Levels

If you are younger and just beginning, this book offers many tried and proven tips. Read it and take a few ideas and put them into practice.

If you are older and have been studying building businesses, most likely you’ll find little new—unless you find motivation from examples from life.

I picked up at least one new idea—questions to ask while doing some market research. Sort of looking for those delicious morel mushrooms in the spring that pop up unexpectedly, ideas are there for the finding.

In the book, he mentions that as people grow in business, the move from reading 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss to Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio. This book is sort of a 4 Hour Work Week. Once you get moving, you’ll grow more by reading Principles and other such books.

Where Is Shift to Digital Transformation Lagging?

My new office is getting organized. Better than my outside life. Remind me why we moved 200 miles north when I went outside for some exercise in 0.5-in. of snow with some icy patches on the trail. Didn’t do my Fartlek run this morning. But, I am relishing one of my new favorite news sites–Morning Brew. Check it out.

I might have a new office with the getting into a new routine with a new house and neighborhood plus the revised routine due to shelter-in-place. Some things remain the same. Half of my emails deal with “Digital Transformation.”

Sometimes I think we’ve been going down this road for such a long time that no one except the worst of the laggards is not already reaping dividends from digital projects.

Speaking of laggards, let me drift a moment into what must be a gross lack of leadership and management. No, I’m talking about government.

Virginia-based Smithfield Foods announced Sunday that it is closing its pork processing plant in Sioux Falls until further notice after hundreds of employees tested positive for the coronavirus — a step the head of the company warned could hurt the nation’s meat supply.

Here is a statistic—Health officials said Sunday that 293 of the 730 people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in South Dakota work at the plant.

So what does our genius leader say? Is he concerned about the health and safety of his workers for whom he has responsibility? Well, “The closure of this facility, combined with a growing list of other protein plants that have shuttered across our industry, is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,“ Smithfield president and CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in a statement. “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running. These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”

Sounds more like he’s whining than stepping up to the plate taking responsibility and changing the culture and workplace.

Back to the regularly scheduled program—lack of digital transformation.

I read every blog post of Seth Godin and listen to his awesome podcast. Marketing and management along with thinking is his schtick not so much tech. But yesterday, he reached out and touched a sour note for our manufacturing and production leaders.

Try this on:

Some of the shift to digital is unwanted, fraught with risk and lonely.

But in some areas, organizations and leaders are realizing that it’s actually more powerful and efficient.

So why didn’t you do it before?

Because it’s easier to follow.

Because it’s more comfortable to stay where we are.

Waiting to do something because you’re forced to is rarely a positive approach to growth or leadership. Abrupt shifts against our will may cause change, but they’re inefficient and destabilizing.

Next time, take the lead. Not because you have to, but because you can.

Be like Seth. Take the lead—because you can.