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Breaking Bias

Breaking Bad is the story of an otherwise noble, high school chemistry teacher who pursues the production and distribution of methamphetamines in order to pay for his personal cancer treatment and also to ensure that his family has a means of support after he dies. Walter White, alias Heisenberg, “broke bad.”

"Breaking Bad"


 

The totally different “Breaking Bias”—as I conceive it—is taking the time to understand the wide array of natural shortcuts our brain takes on our behalf. These are overwhelmingly unconscious, and enable us to survive and thrive. We often refer to these shortcuts as bias.


"Breaking Bias"

Bias is commonly understood as a negative term; but in reality it could be positive, negative or neutral.  The technical term is “heuristic”.



Our bodies are presented with over TEN MILLION (10,000,000) bits of information per second (https://www.fastcompany.com/3051417/why-its-so-hard-to-pay-attention-explained-by-science), but our conscious brain can only process 120, so evolutionarily our species has developed an array of shortcuts to ensure we first and foremost survive and thus be able to pursue that which will help us thrive.



Biases are essential to our survival and appear through our decision making processes.



Most people link biases with demographic categories such as gender, race/ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, profession, socio-economic status, geographic origin, where someone went to school, what they wear, their body language, etc.



We all have our own biases: positive or negative assumptions about people based upon boxing another individual into these categories.


Even more prevalent than these demographic biases are the shortcuts we make and take about everyday situations. 




For example, most of us tend to believe the first piece of information we hear about a particular topic and remain anchored to that. This is called Anchoring Bias.





Most of us will also be more likely to believe information that confirms what we already thought about a particular topic or subject.  This is called Confirmation Bias.




Most of us also get enamored by people we find attractive and will believe what they tell us, more often than not. This is called Attractiveness Bias.




These three are some of the most prevalent types of shortcuts our brain takes on a regular basis, without us even consciously knowing that it is doing this.


In addition to all those ten million bits of information per second that our brain has to deal with, it has also evolutionarily developed to minimize energy consumption.  On average the brain is about 2% of our body weight, but burns about 20% of the calories that our body uses.  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC124895/#).



In the olden days, our ancestors did not have access to as many fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins as we do today, much less all the quick boosters like Red Bull, Twizzler’s Cherry Bites, or Power Bars! So the brain has evolved to minimize calorie consumption.  Another way to say this is that our brains are lazy.  That does not mean that we are lazy, only that our brains have evolved to preserve calories, which can be referred to as lazy. 



Thus the reality of dealing with 10,000,000 incoming bits of information per second combined with the brain using a disproportionate share of our calories provides the “why” for our brain’s heavy use of these unconscious shortcuts.


We have them. We use them. And the fact is, we don’t always make the most optimal decisions through these shortcuts. 



To improve our performance, we can work on Breaking Bias.


Awareness is the first step in mitigating the impact of unconscious shortcuts.  Subsequent posts will lift up a specific bias, share some possible examples, and proivde tips to keep these out of your own decisions.


You can mitigate suboptimal, inefficient, or bad decision making by understanding the role of unconscious shortcuts in all of our lives and making a concerted efforts to think through some of these.



Breaking Bias requires some mental effort, but the payoff is better decisions resulting in less rework, improved communications, and healthier connections with the people important to you. Stay tuned for more…


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