Pursue Cognitive Diversity

Day 2: SXSW. Meaningful sessions abound, excitement is building for the opening of tomorrow’s trade show, and finally, I got to try a couple of street tacos (the recommendations were correct, tacos in Austin are delicious!) A few concepts from the day are included below. Hopefully they inspire growth in the workplace to better adapt to our environments.

Concept 1: Update your Critical Thinking Skills with speaker Carmen Medina

Critical thinking can be strengthened in 3 segments: evidence, cause, and bias.

Evidence Challenges:

  • Lack of Context.
  • The Streetlight Effect — We tend to assume that the information we have access to accurately reflects reality. Instead however, it is just the information that we have available. It distorts our arguments.
  • Trends are never about the future; they are always about the past. Don’t be fooled.
  • The Observer Effect — For example, when a topic is hot, everyone that has an interesting tidbit about the topic expresses it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an increase in an instance of the topic.

Thinking about Causes:

  • Nothing Happens By Chance — There are lots of different causalities for events. Nothing happens by chance. When we say it does, we really mean we just haven’t understood the causality chain yet.
  • Causes Are Complex and Often Hidden
  • Humans Suck at Exponential Causality — When there are more than a handful of causes, we will struggle with interpretation.

Identifying a Bias:

  • “Connecting the Dots” — But we don’t know where all the dots are. We assume that connecting the dots will give us the answer forward. This is not correct.
  • “Worst-Case Scenarios” — We have an instinctive reaction to assume that the worst-case is always unlikely. This is not the case. When talking about the worst-case scenario, we need to be sure we separate the discussion of impact vs. probability.
  • Metaphor Traps — The vocabulary we use is critically important. We need to be specific and deliberate with the word choices we use, and metaphors are not suited for this.

…So, how do we update out critical thinking?

Develop a Thinking Method

What type of problem is it (complex, complicated, chaotic, or simple)? Then we can understand how to respond. We need to be intentional on how we think through problems.

Make Sure You Have a Thinking Partner

Having someone to think out loud with and bounce ideas off of that has a different style of thinking can provide clarity and strength.

Pursue Cognitive Diversity

Think about how we form work teams to ensure we have an adequate variation in thinking styles to solve problems. Put them together in a way that can maximize problem solving.

Also, we tend, as organizations, to look at that other view because it may be right. In reality, we should be looking at the other view because it makes us better at solving the problem.

Remodel Your Brain

We all put information into our brains in categories. Insight is when we reexamine the categorization system in our heads.

Respect Your Intuition

Intuition is actually your brain’s habit of noticing things that we are not consciously aware of. Your brain is recognizing a pattern that you haven’t identified yet.

Understand the Limits to Critical Thinking

If you are a manger, you need to ask the stupid questions. They are the ones that get at the heart of the assumption. “I’m sure they already thought of that.” No, they probably haven’t.

Concept 2: Shedding Light on Hidden Bias a panel discussion

We all have bias. We aren’t able to see it because we aren’t able to process it in real time. Acknowledge this. While it is tempting to work with people that look like us and create a cocoon of people that say “yes”, studies prove that the best teams are those that are diverse. The solution created is much stronger.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is a simple mechanism in the brain: see it, assess, and react. When the patterns are so deeply ingrained in who we are, we don’t even recognize that bias is occurring. It is not a character flaw; it is part of being human. When it moves from stereotypes, assumptions or negative behaviors about a specific group, only then does it become racism or sexism.

The faster we operate, the more we rely on our quick thinking which is primarily our problem solving mechanisms based on bias. For example, when you first meet someone, let’s say in an interview, and you feel comfortable with them in the first minute. This probably just means that they remind you of someone you already know. Then, your whole interview is based off of how much you enjoyed them…because they remind you of someone you already know. Hiring a person who is a “good fit” may just really mean they are most like you.

What can we do in a meeting or at work if we identify a bias?

  • Be an advocate and an ally. When you see it, speak out about it. Don’t leave it to the person that the bias is directed towards. For example, if a woman says something in a meeting, and a few minutes later a man says it and only then does it get recognized, point this out. The goal is to not spurn things in a negative way but just more to recognize that bias occurs so we are more aware if it in the future.
  • Understand we all have bias. We don’t need to beat ourselves up about it, we can just watch out for it when decisions arise.
  • When someone says something that you have a strong reaction to, bring it up and tell that person. They most likely don’t even know it was perceived in a negative or hurtful way.

My workplace has a strong statement including diversity and inclusion and recognizes that it is the responsibility of everyone. However, it never hit home until now, “Diversity is about counting heads; inclusion is about making those heads count.” Beyond hiring and reflecting on EOAA goals, it is a far greater conversation.

Concept 3: Radical Candor with speakers Kim Scott and Christa Quaries

“Care personally. Challenge directly.” is the theme Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor. This was developed to give people the ability to confront one another from a place of caring. Guidance comes both in the form of praise and criticism. Get it. Give it. Encourage it.

To GET IT, have a go-to question that allows colleagues to dig deep across the spectrum. For example: How am I smoking crack here? Is there anything I can do to make it easier to work with me? Do you have any feedback for me? To allow time for answers, stay quite for at least 6 seconds (yes, counting helps). Listen with the intent to understand, not respond. Then, reward the candor, because you need to encourage it again and again.

To GIVE IT, act humbly, helpfully, and immediately. Always give it in-person and never over the phone. You have to be able to see how guidance is being received so you can be on the lookout when a person may shut down. Remember to criticize in private and praise in public.

To ENCOURAGE IT, require “clean” escalation and don’t stir the pot. If manager x complains to you about manager y, yet manager x hasn’t yet addressed the matter directly with manager y, require that they meet first before coming into your office. If there is still a problem that they can’t resolve on their own, then they both need to come into your office together to work it out. Create a “speak truth to power” process and encourage people to become comfortable with this. Also, own your own weaknesses, we all have them.