Biased? Me?!

Like most people, I like to think of myself as fairly rational. I’m not biased. Am I?

It turns out that there are lots of ways in which my thinking habits introduce bias into my decisions and judgements.  And yours.  I’m fascinated by these cognitive (aka thinking) biases and I’ve been keeping notes since discovering the concept on the Henley MBA. It’s both amazing and scary how they can distort our thinking.

Fortunately, I’ve found that learning about cognitive biases can help me recognise the common traps and so make better decisions.  In his book, A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink refers to this as equipoise: the ability to have the serenity to read the biases and failures in your own mind.

Of course, admitting that my decisions might be flawed is tough. A supportive environment helps. As does making time to objectively review and reflect on past decisions. Psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman says:

It’s a special exercise to question your own intuitions. I think that almost the only way to learn how to debias yourself is to learn to critique other people.

The list of biases I’ve been collecting is too long for one post so I’ll split them into different posts with a link to a video or example that makes them come alive. See if you can recognise them in your organisations, your teams, and yourself. Here’s the first:

  • Nominative determinism: The influence your name has over your life choices such as partner, profession, or character.

Stefan Sagmeister makes an entertaining description of this bias in his TED talk on happiness (4:34 – 6:12).

This reminds me of the Eco Island project on the Isle of Wight founded by David Green.

What examples of nominative determinism can you think of?


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Rob is a consultant, technologist, facilitator and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife in Henley-on-Thames.

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