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The word bias has become something of a hot potato in recent years. Bias manifests itself in many forms. We can find ourselves unduly disadvantaging someone and, perhaps, in doing so, unfairly favouring someone else.
Happily for us, many of the biases most prevalent in the workplace are manageable, if not entirely insurmountable. The damaging effect biases can have on both motivation and productivity can be diminished. I talked about a few of them in an earlier post and thought it might be useful if I shared more of them with you.
Later, we’ll talk about complexity bias and how it can lower productivity. First, though, let’s delve into present bias.
The Present Bias
This one is about the propensity we have to focus on things that will yield immediate benefits over things which we hope will offer some reward in future. It means we place more importance on our present happiness than our future gratification and satisfaction. As a result, we keep putting off projects that are potentially very rewarding because they’re challenging.
Our own impatience prevents us from being able to see the big picture and stops us from setting goals that might lead to a measure of future success. Thus, we end up not meeting our goals, neglecting our responsibilities, and failing to make progress towards our resolutions. This can have a devastating effect on our motivation and — by extension — our productivity.
But there’re ways to sidestep the present trap.
- Make tasks you dread easier to get through by taking small steps towards your goal, so it’s easier to weave pieces together when you need to.
- If you have a task you don’t like doing, but that doesn’t require much, if any, deep work, try putting on background music while you do it to make the task more fun.
- If you have a task due soon but are constantly being distracted by new emails hitting your inbox, pause notifications so that you can more easily achieve a state of flow and engage in deep work.
- Learn to think of rewards differently. The desire to achieve your goal alone is not enough of a motivational spur to get you there. You need to find something to enjoy in the process to help get the rest of the way. So, always remember to celebrate the small victories you have on the path to your larger goal.
This theory suggests that we always fall back to a stable level of happiness, no matter what positive and negative influences are at work in our lives. This leaves us continuously asking ourselves if we’re happy. We look for quantitative ways to gauge our contentment. We might seek a raise at work, or aim to buy a new car, or look for other people we think can help make us happy. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to reach a point where you feel you’re finally truly content because after we’ve reached our self-appointed happiness goal, we revert back to a stable happiness level and our sense of achievement diminishes. We then look for something else to bring us joy and — often fleeting — satisfaction.
As with present bias, work on this one by breaking bigger goals into smaller ones so that you’ll feel more accomplished. As you reach milestones, you’ll give yourself frequent boosts of happiness. That’s better than having to wait months, or even years, to experience tiny increases in happiness. By experiencing small upticks in happiness, you might well increase your efficiency too. You can avoid the trap of forever pursuing happiness in this fashion.
Here’re 2 other ways you can overcome hedonic adaptation.
Concentrate on the process rather than the outcome.
- Learn to savour every step you take on the journey to your goal rather than getting too hung up on the idea of achieving success.
Every once in a while, draw back from your work and take stock of your priorities.
- Work out what’s crucial and what’s not so important. It might be that true happiness can be found in our relationships with others.
- Indeed, Robert Waldinger — in a 2015 TED talk — argues that meaningful, strong relationships go a long way towards keeping us happy and healthy.
- So, make sure you put in the effort to foster and maintain good relationships if you want to be productive and happy for as long as possible.
Soon, we’ll discuss the bandwagon effect. Now, let’s take a look at the complexity bias.
The Complexity Bias
This relates to the tendency most of us have to give complex solutions more credit than simple ones, even if they don’t warrant it. Often, when faced with two options, we pick the most complicated one and believe the simpler solution unsatisfactory. We like to think life should be at least as complex as we are, hence our clear readiness to dismiss simple solutions.
It’s true that complexity keeps life interesting and exciting, but it can also encourage you to work harder, not smarter. It’s one thing to enjoy cooking up a gourmet meal but it’s nigh on impossible to sustain complexity in every area of your life for a long time.
The problem is complexity can quickly descend into chaos. A complicated system such as a business venture, a marketing campaign, or a fundraising campaign can be hard to manage. This can leave you feeling less motivated to reach your goals. We’re always on the lookout for broader, more detailed explanations for things, ignoring the basics of a project and staying blind to simple solutions. This can lower our productivity as well as mean that we end up working harder than we perhaps need to.
But there’re things you can do to work around this bias.
Use Occam’s Razor.
- This is the idea that the simplest solution to any problem is usually the right one.
- Following this philosophy is the most effective way to combat complexity bias.
- When choosing between two alternatives, go for the one that sticks to basic concepts and makes the fewest assumptions.
Take a leaf from a realist’s book.
- Remember to be realistic and take little steps towards your aim. There’s no need to go at something full tilt and risk burning yourself out too quickly. You can set yourself tasks you can realistically reach as you incorporate new changes into your routine.
- For example, if your larger goal is to create a new ad campaign, you could get bogged down in the details of where you can find your audience and what slogans you want to write. Instead, pare it back a bit and first decide what you want to promote and set a realistic budget for it.
- You’ll find that your ambitions and hopes for any project will be more easily fulfilled if you give yourself room to adapt your routine, as it will help you achieve overarching goals.
The Bandwagon Effect
Groupthink can pose a real threat to team productivity. In work meetings, multiple thoughts and ideas are voiced. Do you find that more often than not, you and your team tend to go with ideas primarily because everybody else supports them? That’s the bandwagon effect in action. It could lead to bad ideas being adopted and worked on for too long before they’re abandoned. This would waste energy, time, and resources and thus could have a very detrimental effect on efficiency. Also, if there’re people on your team who just go along with an idea because no one came up with a better one, it could negatively affect their motivation and — by extension — damage their productivity. That could even result in the productivity and effectiveness of your whole team being lowered.
There’s a simple way to overcome this one.
- Encourage your teammates to put their co-workers’ ideas to the test.
- That way, once all available ideas have been challenged, only the best should be left.
- Just by challenging your own and other ideas, you and your team will have made it less likely that a bad idea will be adopted.
Next, let’s discuss confirmation bias.
Sometimes, we let our love of being right get in the way of facts. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself. But by allowing this to happen, you might be hindering your ability to make decisions. If we always yield to our tendency to trust information that supports our own preconceptions, our judgment will be coloured by that, which could lead to poor outcomes.
What’s the best way to tackle this one?
- Keep in mind that it’s impossible for any of us to be entirely free from bias, and don’t berate yourself overmuch.
- Practice honest self-reflection to help gain perspective. By gaining an awareness of your own flaws, you can start to make more objective decisions which will likely contribute to increased levels of productivity.
Now we’ve learnt more about how our subconscious minds can affect our effectiveness and productivity — as individuals and as part of a team. I hope you’ll try out the tips I’ve shared with you. You’ll be able to minimise the impact biases have on your life and work. Soon, you’ll be more self-aware and working together on inspiring, worthwhile projects, and being more productive than ever!