The Idea: All of us are biased; it is the way we understand patterns and the greater world around us. It’s a reflex, it’s programmed, but it’s also dangerous. Psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman is known for his work on judgment and decision-making. He argues that we sometimes draw conclusions and develop opinions based on very limited information, and if these conclusions go unchecked, the results can be terrible.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman shares: “The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it.”

He argues we jump to conclusions because we over value the information in front of us, while discounting the information that’s just off stage. Our biases (our judgments) are internal responses to previous threats, vulnerabilities, and shame. And when we don’t see a situation fully, Kahneman says we falsely believe that “what you see is all there is.”

Chip & Dan Heath, authors of the book Decisive, remind us of four decision-making biases that can mislead us:

  • Narrow framing – The tendency to define our choices too narrowly & to see them in binary terms. This is called spotlighting, where we choose one alternative at the expense of all the others.
  • Confirmation bias – Our normal habit in life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that bolsters our belief. It is self-serving, limiting and often destructive.
  • Short-term emotion – When a tough decision is in front of us our emotions get the best of us and warp our decision-making. It is in those moments that we need perspective the most.
  • Overconfidence – We all think we know more than we do about how the future will unfold. We over value our predictive skills. Overconfidence is a powerful delusional force.

We don’t know what we don’t know. Which is why it’s difficult to shine a spotlight on areas we cannot see. The authors recommend a few strategies:

  • Widen Options – We make only a few conscious choices every day. We are on auto-pilot and are often times stuck in a narrow frame, unaware of the additional options all around us. Actively reconsidering potential choices is a must. Who are your objective advisors and how do you disrupt the tendency towards shifting into auto-pilot?
  • Test Assumptions – Since most people are terrible at predicting, we need to see things from up close and far perspectives. With every decision, there is a long-term effect, and a short term one; we often mistakenly think there is only one way to view a decision. How do you zoom in and zoom out as a means of testing your assumptions with a big decision?
  • Create Distance – Boundaries actually enhance creativity and improve decision-making. What boundaries have you set up for yourself with big decisions? And how do you emotionally distance yourself when you must make a critical choice? Boundaries encourage risk taking by allow a “safe space for experimentation.” They move us from unconscious to conscious decision making.

It’s usually easier to see other people’s biases than your own. Who do you rely on for truth about yourself, your decision making, and how you impact others?