Wrong brain, wrong education and that little nudge to help

As a fact, in the US listed companies, about 15 board members out of 100 are women.

As another fact, the US has historically rewarded merit and competencies more than many other countries.

How can then happen that in selecting people, one of life’s most crucial choices, we are so biased as to unconsciously neglect merit and competencies?

Breaking the impasse is possible, if we try to tweak some consequences of two unconscious biases through a little nudge.

Similarity bias happens when we select people that are more similar to us, as opposed to people who appear more different. Evolution has fostered this trait, as a key manner to survive ever since the difficult times when we would live in the savannah, trying to escape from animals and all sorts of dangers.

We have the wrong brain and the wrong education. When making people decisions, we fall pray into a series of unconscious psychological biases, such as surrounding ourselves with similar people with whom we feel naturally comfortable. Many of these biases were very effective for our primitive ancestors, but they are no longer useful for building great teams which require complementary and highly sophisticated skills.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Author of Great PeopleDecisions, 2007

A “similarity bias” results when individuals are more likely to imitate cultural models that are perceived as being similar to the individual, based on specific traits (such, for instance, age, gender, geographical location and so on…).

Similarity bias is even enhanced by our other bias, which we call snap judgement, whereby we unconsciously make up our mind on someone during the first milliseconds after we meet. I have separately written about the many benefits of overcoming snap judgements.

The combination of snap judgements and similarity biases is the one reason why gender diversity (but also age diversity, geographic diversity and possibly many other aspects of diversity) is so difficult to happen without a little nudge (such as that of a proper law).

That little nudge lets us overcome unconscious fears, to the advantage of merit, competencies and corporate governance.

Tommaso Arenare

Snap judgements, the Savannah and that “reply” button we hit too quickly

This is about identifying and avoiding wrong judgements we make as a result of an unconscious bias, dating back to millennia ago.

Such as when we say…

How come I was so wrong in assessing him when we first met?

Or even:

I wish I had waited a bit longer before replying to that email…

These and similar questions and observations come across so very often, when I talk with people about mistakes we make when we interact with people, select them or react to them.

Humanity is thought to have taken its modern form some 200,000 years ago. Back then,  when we used to live in the Savannah, in small closely knit family groups, most of our key decisions where about a “Fight or Flight” dilemma, when we would face dangerous animals or other dangerous human beings and we had to decide, in as little time as possible, if the best way to save our life was to fight or flight away.

A snap judgement, as the word implies, is our habit to make a decision about people, or reacting to people, unconsciously, in a matter of very few seconds (I would better say milliseconds) after we meet with that someone or we face a situation we consider as a challenge. A snap judgement is a very precious and important habit, which we have developed over many millennia. Over time, though, it has become highly dangerous if we can’t identify and address it properly.

We can change this to our benefit.

Let’s remeber that our brain has largely remained the same, after millennia of evolution. It’s the same brain which helped our ancestors make the right “Fight or Flight” decisions.

Think about today, though: our immediate reaction to that bad email we’ve received, or to that difficult situation we had to face during a meeting, or many similar situations, they all bring our brain back to the Savannah and our fight for survival.

But now we know.

We know that’s exactly when we need to acknowledge our inner feeling of fear, pause and take the time to decide differently. This may require, for example, postponing our decision to the next day, or perhaps involving a friend or colleague we like in re-assessing the elements with us, before we decide.

All of this can be far better than a snap judgement.

Let’s think about it next time we make a judgement about someone we meet or when we decide how to respond to a challenge we face, or when we select leaders for our organisation, as well as when we choose friends or partners in our daily life.

Yet, we may just need some extra time.

That little extra time will result into us reacting more effectively to challenges or selecting better, more talented people, who complement us and bring the added value of difference and diversity, as well as the benefit of far greater personal satisfaction.

Tommaso Arenare