There’s a belief that our core decisions are based on unconscious bias. To test this theory, you can quickly take the Implicit Association Test (IAT). After you’ve read this post, I strongly encourage you to actually go to the site and complete one or more of the tests. They don’t take long and the results will amaze you. The IAT measures the implicit attitudes and beliefs that people are either unwilling (deceiving others) or unable (deceiving themselves) to report. For example, you may think that men and women share an equal place in the work force. Yet, your responses to the IAT may show women more greatly associated with the home and men more greatly associated with the office. It seems there’s proof here that people don’t always know their own mind.
Consider how many negative compound words and phrases begin with the word “black” (example: blackmail.) When training on preconceived notions, I sometimes ask the attendees to take two minutes and write down as many words and phrases they can think of that begin with black. There are many, but relatively few that are positive in nature. In a recent session, there were a total of 37 different words listed by the group in two minutes and only three (Black Beauty, Black Beans and Black is Beautiful) were not negative. In the old westerns, what color hat did the good guy wear? What color are angels? What’s a white lie? Black is the color of death. Widows wear black when they’re in mourning. We hang black wreathes to symbolize a death has occurred. Black is bad. White is good. We’ve trained our brain to think this way. I have been asked if I think this color association is related to race. There is reference to black being evil as early as 1401 BC, prior to a time when cultures and races were geographically mixed. So, while I don’t know why we’ve trained our brain to make this association, I do not believe it is related to race.
We have the ability to train our brain in positive ways, too. Ask any parent if they had to teach their child to lie. It’s quite the opposite. Lying is intuitive to a child. When challenged and they know the true answer will get them in trouble, they will instinctively lie. It’s self-preservation. Parents must train their child NOT to lie and hopefully there comes a time when truth telling is instinctive for the child. Remember the George Washington/Cherry Tree story. That is purposely taught to early childhood students to stress the importance and self-gratification of being truthful.
For those of us that are charged with making sound business decisions, these unconscious prejudices should be of great concern.
When evaluating business decisions consider these issues:
- Is there a conflict between two or more values?
- Who has a stake in the decision? Do you have a tie to an interested party?
- Who’s being harmed? Who’s being helped?
- What’s the worst that can happen? What the best that can happen?
- And, perhaps most importantly: Can I live with the outcome? Could my mother see me do this and be proud? Would I want my children to do this?
Be mindful of how old attitudes formed by these implicit associations may be tainting your business judgment. Take the time and energy to overcome these preconceived notions. One more time, train your brain to make sound, legitimate business decisions based on facts and evidence rather than an antiquated way of thinking.