Ian discusses the importance of identifying and addressing bias, especially during these times of heightened tension and ambiguity.
Full Transcription below:
Close to my local university, I noticed three men standing on the bridge. Now they weren’t students. They were older, mature men and they were unfurling a flag. And the flag read; Covid is a hoax. As well as paying attention to the three men on the bridge and the flag, I was also struck and started to pay attention to my response to the content of the flag.
And I thought, herein lies one of the key characteristics of this whole pandemic, the whole idea of polarity. Now this is as predictable as it is human because, during the pandemic, the one thing that we’re surrounded by is uncertainty. And uncertainty breeds fear. And fear triggers a limbic reaction.
And one of the characteristics or features of the limbic reaction is it wants us to move towards certainty. Why? Because in a survival situation, we want less choice, not more choice. So the limbic system creates a binary choice and binary means that we’re in a situation where we’re either for or against. We’re either in or out, it’s either us or them, black, white, Republican, Democrat. We got the message. So the polarized world we’re increasingly surrounded by is based on the provocation of core human fears and our limbic response to same.
On the subject of fear, one of the three core human fears is the fear of loss of control or at least the illusion of control. And it’s this need for control that gives birth to the range of conspiracy theories that we see mushrooming all around us, around surveillance and the surveillance state, vaccinations, the 5G, the Illuminati, or indeed the extraterrestrial reptiles who are supposedly controlling the world . The limbic reason for this is that it is far more comforting to believe some phantasmagorical theory, however far fetched, than to admit to the terror of the idea that there’s no one at the controls. And then we defend it. At a less extreme level, this is just a reflection of what we would call conviction.
It’s a strength, reassurance, and comfort. And behind that is the basis of meeting a core need. I’ll come back to conviction in a second. Stepping aside, as human beings we, on average, have estimated 70,000 thoughts every single day. In addition to that, we have an internal monologue, which is happening, which is like a real time commentary that’s going on in our heads like we’re talking to ourselves. In fact, it’s estimated that 95% of the conversations that we have in our lifetime are with ourselves. The combination of this incessant stream of thinking and incessant, interior monologue accumulates like sediment on a seabed over the years and the decades of our lives. And the thick crust of the sediment forms our inner reality.
And in order to survive and make sanity of things we, in our internal reality, create labels for things. So as human beings, we label people, we label places, we label things, we label objects, we label events. And then we interact with the outside world. But we interact with the outside world through this invisible lens or this invisible filter of the labels that we have for everything already. Some people call them biases, monologues, but we are typically unconscious as we deal with the outside world of the inner workings of our labels . So we’re not under the illusion that we’re experiencing the world as it is in real time. When in fact what we’re doing is we’re experiencing the world secondhand through the filter of our labels, but we’re doing it unconsciously.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you’re at work, and for some of us still we need to imagine this. It’s coffee time and you decide you want to go to the coffee machine. As you approach the coffee machine, you notice somebody there who you really don’t like. This is somebody you don’t get on with, you have very little in common with. In fact, you dislike them to the point where you almost turn away and don’t go for the coffee because they’re there. But the desire for coffee is too strong and you go anyway. As you approach the machine, the person turns around and they say, “there’s too much work”. As you imagine that person and that remark, how do you feel yourself responding inside? Your translation of that remark is probably something like; “that person’s a slacker”, “they’re just lazy”, “there they go again”, “they’re not really up for the job”, “I knew they were in over their head”.
Now imagine the same scene with a different person. This time, the person at the coffee machine is somebody you really like, you really connect with, you have a lot of respect for, you spend time together, you have a good understanding. And they say to you, “there’s too much work”. How do you respond? It’s more likely to be something like this; “Wow, there must be a lot on if they’re saying it”, “perhaps they need a conversation”, “they need a bit of time to offload”, “maybe I should have a conversation with them and offer them a chat”, “maybe they need help”. The truth is it’s our labels that determine our response in the moment far more than the situation itself. And most of the time, we don’t know it. We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.
The heads up for leadership about this is that in times of uncertainty and complexity and chaos, humans naturally cling more tightly to their labels and they fight for it. As leaders, we need to not cling tightly. We need to hold our labels lightly. As Mark Twain once wrote; It ain’t what we don’t know, gets us into trouble. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.
So back to our friends on the overpass. Covid is a hoax. What was your response to that? Perhaps there was none. And if you did have a response, it ranged somewhere between the extreme of endorsement and anger. Whatever your response was, it was filtered through your own labels and your own worldview.
In the next episode, I’m going to be dealing with, how do you navigate through your own labels and the labels of others to get to a better outcome as a leader.
Before signing off this week, I just want to say that after approximately six months, we are beginning to see some signs of green shoots in some locations and some industries across the globe. This podcast series has provoked an immense response, really surprisingly for me, and behind the scenes myself and the team have been creating, and have now created, a virtual suite around the whole idea of leading in chaos, which is now complete, tested, and working with clients around the globe. So if you’re interested in finding out more, and doing something virtually with your leadership team or your leaders in your organization, get in touch through LinkedIn.
In the meantime until next time, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.
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