How to become aware of your biases?

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers!” — Thomas J. Watson (former CEO of IBM)

Today this sentence sounds ridiculous, especially as smartphones are already replacing computers. We are carrying more intelligence capacity in our pockets than during the time humans flew to the moon for the very first time. But where are those assumptions based on and why are we sometimes so wrong? How do we know what may come true or not and where do we build our decisions on? First of all, we need to recognize that we all have our own mental models about the past, present and especially about the future. We filter millions of pieces of information each day and build our decisions on those filters. How are we making sure not to miss an important piece? We need to recognize that our instincts and emotions have a bigger impact on our decisions than we want to accept and start challenging our own assumptions every day.

What does it mean to be biased?

Whenever we build our decisions and actions on our personal experience, our social background, learned stereotypes or our culture without even realizing it, our unconscious bias is present. It is built on how we were raised, which experiences we have made in our childhood and which decisions made us successful or let us fail. John Manoogian III and Buster Benson organized Wikipedia’s list of cognitive bias into four categories of why and when biases arise:

1. Too Much Information: There is so much information out there that we cannot process all even if we try. Therefore, we make decisions based on filtered information we perceive as important based on our past experiences and we are drawn to details that confirm our existing beliefs.

2. Not Enough Meaning: To create meaning we connect the dots of new information to old memories and build new stories with a mixture of both. We need old symbols to understand new ones and, therefore, new information is always linked to what we have already known. This, however, blends the edges and there are details in the new story that haven’t been there before.

3. Need To Act Fast: If we do not have the resources and time to make a sound decision we make them based on intuition rather than on facts. We project our current priorities into the future, assuming we would feel the same way in the future. We also favor simple options over transformative options as the latter requires more energy and time even though they might be more sustainable.

4. What Should We Remember? There is so much information that there is only so little information we can store in our brains. Therefore, we need to be strategic about the things we want to remember and build patterns to save some space. We reduce complexity and stick to key elements and discard details to store generalities. This helps us saving storage but limits the foundation we build decisions on.

Why is this important for future imagination?

Our cognitive and unconscious bias limits our imagination we need to create pictures of the future and scenarios. Therefore, we need to become aware of them and challenge our own assumption repeatedly.

How to overcome your biases with foresight?

Foresight helps us to think in innovative ways instead of using linear models based on our biases. When we challenge our assumptions and replace our biases though curiosity and openness we see the world with different eyes. Foresight gives us structure to explore the chaos and provides methods that force us to think differently. A terrific way to personalize the future is to imagine it as our future generation. Our future-conscious should make sure that we feel and care about that generation and the world they will live in instead of the situation we are currently captured.

Further readings: