The Power of Unconscious Bias
Any human thought or human creation is based on positive and negative biases. Even algorithms have been shown to have built-in bias because they were designed and coded by humans. The faster the world turns, the more likely we are to fill our minds with biases just to make sense of things.
The first question we need to ask ourselves is not whether we have biases (because we all do) but rather “which biases do I have?” Only then can we take the appropriate action needed to expand our minds.
Life moves fast these days. So, we often resort to the cheat sheet of bias to help us make choices quickly. It works much of the time because many biases are helpful: they simplify our daily life, tap into our past knowledge and experience, and help us make decisions quickly. Unconscious bias also works the other way. Through selective attention, subliminal messaging, and negative biases, our brains only see part of reality. This unfairly stereotypes, prejudices us, and can impose a lens that hobbles our world view.
Micro Aggressions Undermine Inclusivity and Innovation
One of the most insidious consequences of bias is “micro aggression.” Micro aggressions are brief, commonplace verbal or behavioral slights, driven by strong biases toward people who are different from you, or people who hold opinions different than yours. They can be intentional or unintentional, conscious, or unconscious. Whether on purpose or not, the effects are the same. These actions serve to alienate people and undermine inclusivity and innovation.
Negative unconscious bias and micro aggressions prevent people from working together effectively. We all need to confront our unconscious biases head-on and operate with a more open and expanded mind. The more inclusive you are about yourself – being open to new ideas and accepting your own imperfections – the more inclusive you will be with others. Inclusive relationships foster more innovative ideas, allowing you to think bigger.
Diversity Leads to Innovation
What does all of this have to do with innovative thinking? If you want to innovate, you need to think like a beginner. Like children, we must learn how to play, to approach the world with open eyes, experiment with fresh ideas, engage with diverse people, and let go of destructive bias. Only then will you begin to discover new ways of doing things.
By utilizing our empathy and experimentation and challenging the status quo, we can arrive at innovative solutions to new problems. Whether it’s improving toothbrushes, rethinking retail experiences, or feeding the elderly, the innovators among us turn abstract ideas into practical applications.
Tips for Conscious Living
- Be aware of your diversity lens. Each of us starts with our own cultural biography, influenced by where we are born, our experiences, our background, our experiences. This lens influences how we see and react in the world.
- Confront your unconscious biases. Notice the stories you tell yourself about people and groups and the feelings that accompany the stories. Question your assumptions and explore what is beneath your feelings to identify potential biases.
- Tap into the diverse ideas around you. Engage in “possibility thinking.” Ask “What if?” questions. Be resourceful and creative; test ideas in small ways to experiment and get feedback. Work together with colleagues and associates to approach opportunities in bolder ways.
Inclusion and developing an unbiased mind are part of the Thing Big practice in our book CONSCIOUS: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life. The other practices are Go Deep, Get Real, and Step Up.