#12: Overcoming Biased Decision Making – Naveed Usman

On the twelfth episode of the 1 to 10 podcast, we sat down with Naveed Usman, Principal and CEO of The Usman Group.

Episode Overview

I would ask you to consider how many decisions you make every day personally and professionally, but that might be a bit overwhelming.

However, asking you to reflect on the bias behind your decision making may provide some important insight into how and why you make decisions.

It’s nearly unavoidable. We humans carry bias, known and unknown, that impact our decision making constantly.

In one of the most recent episodes of the 1 to 10 Podcast, I had the opportunity to chat with my friend Naveed Usman, Principal and CEO at The Usman Group about the bias traps we fall into and some practical things we can do to try and avoid these pitfalls.

It’s A Trap

All but the most stubborn of us can agree that we are biased in some way, but we often fail to grasp how these biases may adversely impact our business.

Naveed cited a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Hidden Traps in Decision Making” that efficiently defines eight of the traps that can be sprung on leaders.

“They’re a series of heuristics,” Naveed says, “Blind spots that we all have.”

Although he’d been aware of such biases, the article nicely outlined many of the problems he was already encountering, as well as providing a profound framework for how these biases happen.

“We need to step back for a second and look at it from a different perspective.”

While being a leader means learning from mistakes, all of us are looking for ways to avoid mistakes when possible. Failing to address our bias in certain situations can result in repeating poor decisions.

Keep in mind that being stuck in a single trap is one thing, perhaps easily identifiable and avoidable. But many of these traps are combination problems; they stack on one another and things become complicated.

Someone To Poke Us

It’s difficult for us to see our own bias. We need other humans keeping an eye out.

Sometimes we need an external source to “poke” at us when bias is happening. Even during the interview, I found myself recounting a story to Naveed to see which traps he thought I fell into while making certain decisions.

“Because they’re all coupled and can stack on top of one another, it becomes even harder for us as humans to recognize we’re inside our own biases.”

Naveed mentioned a book by Daniel Kahneman called “Thinking, Fast and Slow” in which Kahneman talks about two ways our brain “switches on and off”, or Systems 1 and 2.

System 1 is this “lizard brain” that is super default; we’re on it most of the time. It’s how we quickly analyze the world and where a lot of bias exists.

System 2 is the slow, deliberate, and methodical thinking where you can grow, expand and become more thoughtful.

These two are at odds with each other, but System 1 is default.

So we need people to consistently pointing at us to remind us of this.

Aware of the Problem

“Once you’ve pointed some sunlight on this thing,” Naveed reminds us, “It disappears.”

Naveed, noting part of what Usman Group does as a consulting business, talks about the benefit of being an outsider empowered as a trusted advisor to make note of these biases.

He says it’s often simply a matter of sitting down with the leadership group and making sure everyone is on the same page and aware of the situation.

“As long as everybody in that room is aware of these traps, I think then you’re less likely to fall into these traps because now you have just put a spotlight on the bias.”

Biases often creep in. They’re long and slow, almost unnoticed.

This whole idea penetrates more than just our professional career. It happens at home with our kids and friends as well.

Avoiding these traps quickly becomes more than just about our business. Handling biases, it seems, improves both our professional and person lives.

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This post is based on an interview with Naveed Usman from The Usman Group.

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