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Busting your biases: the secret to a more objective standpoint

by Sep 28, 2021leadership0 comments

The idea that we can obtain some kind of completely objective standpoint on life – the ‘View from Nowhere’, as it’s known – is wishful thinking.But seeing ourselves as powerless to resist the biases we already have is also wishful thinking.

Biases of thought work a bit like funhouse mirrors. When we look through them, every contour of our world is distorted – even if we can’t always quite figure out how the distortion is happening.

Bias of thought is pernicious precisely because it’s invisible. This gives it a perfect avenue to get right under our skin.

Some of our biases regard other social groups, and the common tendency to dismiss or overlook those who are different to us.

For example, a type of common bias is to see the ‘straight white male’ perspective as the ‘normal’ or ‘invisible’ default position, while every other identity is defined in relation to it.

So, a description of someone’s appearance might think that mentioning someone’s background is relevant in one case, but not in another.

Even if we don’t think of ourselves as ‘biased’ regarding groups different to our own, there are methods of extracting the buried responses we’re reluctant to admit to ourselves.

One such method is the Harvard Implicit Association Test.

The test, which is timed, shows that many are quicker at associating positive words with white people than they are with people of different races.

Similarly, the test shows that most people who take the test are quicker at associating negative words with non-white people than they are with white people.

These types of biases are able to be combated – and one of the first steps, of course, is recognising that the bias exists.

Before it reaches the threshold of consciousness, there is little to no chance that we would be able to develop the appropriate self-awareness to meaningfully engage with the flawed nature of our thought patterns.

When the bias implicit in our web of mental associations is made more explicit to us, we are better-equipped to use our rationality to assess how best we could improve our responses.

In recent decades, much has been done to break down the monolithic image of team members being made up of one type of person, with one type of viewpoint (obviously including minor variations … but nothing too challenging).

Yet as long as a team is on board with the company’s overall image and vision, there’s a lot of scope for expanding the possibilities beyond what was previously considered.

Another thing that has changed, in line with this more diverse image of a team, is the more complex picture of the audience.

No longer pictured as an identikit collection of people with an ‘ideal perspective’ to aim for, the typical audience is now recognised as just as potentially diverse as the team members themselves are.

This obviously adds another layer of complexity. Not only are the creators of the work viewed in a more complex, granular, and multi-faceted way; so are the people who will eventually be making use of the work.

With so many more balls being juggled, the days of assuming a singular perspective from each end of the creative process are obviously long gone.

Yet even though this broader, more self-critical mode of thinking brings its own challenges, it signifies a greater willingness to recognise that to be human is to be diverse. Perhaps our greatest asset as a species is our persistent urge to split apart and question what has always been taken for granted, to uncover a more complex – and fulfilling – truth.