Biases can be dangerous if not kept in check. We all have them to one degree or another and when we are unaware of our own biases we run the risk of making poor decisions based on inaccurate information. As a consultant working with different clients it is important to me to minimize my own biases so that I do not project the issues of one client on to another. I was reminded of this importance after listening to a TED Talk archive about factory workers in China.
Author and journalist Leslie T. Chang lived 10 years in China as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. During her stay she followed the lives of several factory workers to learn about China’s more that 150 million migrant workers. What she found contradicts the widely held belief in the United States that factory workers in China are suffering and enslaved because of our demand for consumer good. In 2012 she summarized her experience at TED and spoke at length about her perceptions versus the workers’ actual experience.
At the time of her TED Talk the media was full of stories about Chinese factory workers living in “prison-like conditions” and the belief that Western consumerism forces people in China to choose factory work over some other pursuit. Her story is particularly relevant today given the amount of opinions we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Couple that volume with the ability to tailor our news feeds to just the sources we want and we dance on the slippery slope of ignorance. Too much filtering and we find ourselves listening to only those voices that reinforce our own biases and fall prey to the dark side of personalized news feeds.
By limiting our news intake to only sources we like we miss opportunities to glean valuable information from alternative sources we might not have considered. The next time you are making a tough decision, think about the information you are relying upon. How much of it is influenced by, or the product of, your own unconscious bias towards the topic? Were you asked to create a strategic plan for your organization only to be stuck in analysis paralysis because of what you think a strategic plan should look like?
The important thing to know is that biases are not inherently bad or wrong. We develop biases as a quick “danger detector” to keep ourselves safe. Often operating at the subconscious level, they allow us to react very quickly in the face of real danger. The problem arises when we allow these unconscious biases to override our rational decision-making processes. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Just asking the question, am I biased towards this issue, is the first step towards making a fully conscious decision.