3 unconscious biases that may do you most damage in uncertain times

Unconscious Biases

When Rolf Dobelli wrote his book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, I read it 17 times. I just could not help wondering how applicable the field of heuristics is to our daily lives. Here are the top 3 of my favorite unconscious biases – ones I believe are most pertinent in these challenging pandemic times.

ACTION BIAS

Our Primal brain is geared for fight or flight. Although we now value reflection more highly, inaction still remains frowned upon. You seldom get acknowledgement for making the right decision by waiting. On the other hand, if you demonstrate decisiveness and quick judgment, and the situation improves (though perhaps coincidentally), it’s quite possible your boss, or even the CEO, will shake your hand. Society at large still prefers rash action to a sensible wait-and-see strategy. The action bias is accentuated when a situation is new or unclear.  In the COVID-19 ridden business environment, making claims of what one should do by people who have never experienced a COVID-19 like situation ever before is like taking advice from someone who is not using it.

ILLUSION OF SOCIAL PROOF

We tend to follow what the group does – and we’ll conform to prevent ourselves from being excluded. At a performance, when someone in the audience spontaneously bursts into applause, suddenly everyone else joins the chorus! But why? This is due to a phenomenon called social proof, which makes us feel like our behavior is correct when it matches other people’s. One consequence of this “herd mentality” is that the more people follow an idea, the better we believe that idea to be. We see examples of this everywhere: from fashion and diets to stock market panic and mass hoarding during COVID-19.

CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSALITY

I read an article recently claiming that most large fortune 500 companies were birthed in crises economies. Ergo, crises economies give rise to fortune 500 companies. False! Its absurd to conclude that selling ice-cream causes

suicides if the sales of ice-creams rise at the same time as the number of suicides in a country. Beware of correlations turning into causality. There are countless studies being peddled where correlations are showcased as causal factors. Superstitions are born here. It’s easy to sell (anything) this way!

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