This post is an excerpt from a LinkedIn discussion. The author, Leland Russell, gave me permission to post this. His blog is at: http://www.geogroup.net/fasttimeblog/
Why do the “beholders” often see the “facts” so differently?
We are not the rational thinkers we sometimes imagine. Our thought processes are often flawed by common thinking errors caused by cognitive biases. A vast body of research has illuminated the fact that these common thinking errors can lead to bad or sub-optimal decisions.
While no one can rid his or her mind of these ingrained flaws, we can make a conscious effort to understand and compensate for them. There is quite a list to consider.
1. Selective Perception – Our brain fits facts into our established mental frameworks. We tend to remember something that is consistent with our worldview, and discount statements or unconsciously screen-out information that is not consistent with our current beliefs. We also tend to gather facts that support certain our worldview but disregard other facts that support different worldviews.
2. Information Distortion – We unconsciously delete, distort and generalize information to make it conform to our pre-existing beliefs. We also distort our memories of chosen and rejected options to make the chosen options seem more attractive.
3. Fundamental Attribution Errors – This is the well-documented human tendency to attribute better judgment, motives and morality to ourselves than we do to those we don’t like or with whom we disagree. We are inclined to judge their arguments to be untrue or irrelevant. We are equally inclined to accept a statement by someone we like and generally agree. We also tend to attribute our success to our abilities and talents, but we attribute our failures to bad luck and external factors. We attribute other’s success to good luck, and their failures to their mistakes.
4. Group Conformity Instinct – Social psychologists have found that individuals tend to lose their personal compass in group settings with either positive or negative consequences. The Group Conformity Instinct is most obvious in an organization’s culture. The prevailing mental norms (beliefs, values and underlying assumptions/mindsets) about how to do things exerts a powerful influence on individuals to conform.
5. Overconfidence – Most successful people tend to be overconfident regarding their:
Personal Performance. For example, a friend of mine who is atop executive development consultant asks senior executives to rate themselves against their peers and the vast majority rate (90%) themselves in the top 20%.
6. Wishful Thinking – We tend to want to see things in a positive light and this can distort our perception and thinking so we sometimes make non-rational decisions based on what is pleasing to imagine instead of making decisions based on objective evidence. Studies have consistently shown that holding all else being equal people will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes.
7. Comfort Zone – This is a range of thinking or behavior that is familiar or routine, a psychological space where we feel “at home” and comfortable. Most people have difficulty making decisions that are outside their comfort zone and, when faced with new circumstances, an unwillingness to change thought patterns that they have used in the past. Decision makers tend to display a strong bias toward alternatives that perpetuate the status quo.
While it is impossible eliminate all of these thinking errors, it is important for leaders to understand that they exist and try to compensate for them. The best defense is the leader’s awareness. Forewarned is forearmed.