Saturday, February 6, 2016

Intuition or Unconscious Bias?

About 18 months ago I overheard an idea at a work event. Without going into the gory details of the comment, the idea surrounded the sustainability of the school at which I was working. I found the idea terribly uncomfortable and couldn't wrap my head around it. My intuition led me to believe that the speaker's slant or bias was coloring her comments.

Unsure of how to process this info, I consulted with some folks - our head of school, a donor, some colleagues and a few students (disguising the idea as a hypothetical situation, of course). I received a variety of different ideas and opinions, but was still fairly stuck in my own thinking. Despite what I gleaned from others, I was pretty sure this idea was a bad one.

Recently, I had a reversal in my thinking. In the process of changing my mind, I realized something important: Even though I was going through the motions of evaluating the idea, I was clinging dearly to my own opinion. Call it arrogance, stubbornness, close-mindedness or a combination of all three.

This was a good lesson for me. I have always claimed to be fairly open minded and willing to consider diverse ideas, but in this case - and perhaps many others - I was seeking information, but adhering to my own ideas and relying on my "intuition."

This raises a few questions:

  • How often do we think we are relying on intuition when we are actually letting our bias get in the way of clarity? 
  • What is the connection between intuition and bias? 
  • And if we rely too heavily on our own "intuition," how are we expanding our own thinking?
As we maneuver decision making and progress, it is essential that we evaluate the ideas of others while at the same time we are being honest and reflective about our own thinking. Are we holding fast to our ideas because they are valid or because our we are thinking narrowly? Do we allow our "intuition" to be influenced by our unconscious bias? And - most importantly - how to be minimize the connection between intuition and bias?



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