Today's world poses new challenges for our brains
We live in a dynamic, increasingly connected and thus more complex world.
The acceleration, intensification and increased demands are a result of developments over the last 200 years. However, our brain was formed at a time when all these issues were not yet relevant.
Intensive research on the exciting topic of "How does our brain work" has impressively shown that:
These processes run unconsciously, so we don't notice them automatically!
Our brain is an impressive organ - and probably the decisive reason that we as humans have been able to assert ourselves evolutionarily.
A key characteristic of our brain is the way in which it processes information and its efficiency in doing so.
Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman described the functioning of the human brain as the interaction of two systems of thought - system 1 and system 2.
Kahneman calls the unconscious, fast, automatic and intuitive functioning of our brain "system 1". It is based on heuristics, which in turn are based on experiences as well as thought patterns formed from them.
System 1 works extremely efficiently by filtering external information, comparing it with stored patterns and deriving actions. This autopilot takes more than 90% of our decisions without us noticing.
System 1 has done well evolutionarily because it allows for quick reactions and has therefore been central to the survival of our species in dangerous situations. We notice it in our quick reactions in dangerous situations (such as in traffic).
It works error-free if the patterns fit the respective context - this is usually only the case with low complexity.
Complex questions need a different approach. Our brain can also work logically, slowly and analytically for this purpose ("system 2" according to Kahneman). We tend to identify strongly with this part of our thinking (hence - the ratio). However, research has proven that we consciously activate this System 2 much less often because it takes a lot of energy and tires quickly.
Daniel Kahneman emphasises that our decisions, our interaction with other people and our behaviour are very much shaped by the interaction of the two systems. At the same time, he emphasises that this is a metaphor. The actual way our brain works is much more complex.
System 1 and System 2 can be used very well as a concept to explain the presence of cognitive biases - our autopilot sometimes goes wrong.
As discussed in the definition of unconscious biases, we are sometimes systematically wrong. Why?
Essentially, we apply an existing pattern that is not appropriate in the specific context. System 1 is equally convinced of its correctness, system 2 does not engage.
The consequence: our judgement, decision or action leads to a result that is inappropriate for the situation - for ourselves, other people or organisations. This can also happen contrary to system 2's conscious beliefs or values, therefore also contrary to an actual intention.
Due to the unconscious nature of system 1, people tend to underestimate its scope and effect, correspondingly the impact of biases on themselves or their environment.
A second key point - unconscious biases are always based on individual patterns. Every person has a multitude of biases, and the extent and interaction of these biases are unique.
Therefore, measures against unconscious biases must always be individual - "one size fits all" does not work!
Therefore - our autopilot guides us through life largely error-free, but we must be aware of the following:
About 200 different biases have been identified that influence our daily actions.
Their effect continues to grow - the immense demands in teams and on leaders have a reinforcing effect.
The ever-increasing flood of information, time pressure, greater uncertainty and multitasking massively amplify this phenomenon.
Our brain reacts in stressful situations in such a way that automatic patterns become more dominant. This means that external stimuli are answered with the existing patterns. The brain falls back on available, stored heuristics - system 1 largely takes over.
In evolution, this behaviour has proven itself - in today's situations of stress, crises or professional overload, the narrowed way of thinking means the concrete risk of making more wrong decisions.
Especially in today's working environments, complexity and speed have increased greatly - system 2 as our special capacity would be in demand here.
What can be done effectively against them?
Biases work unconsciously and due to different, individual patterns in many different ways.
It therefore takes equally extensive measures to reduce their negative effects.
We can basically start again with System 1 and System 2 and define the following goals:
The first, essential step is to develop greater awareness of thinking errors and biases.
Awareness and clarity for self-control and self-direction
On a personal level, the main issues that affect us are perception (i.e. what is my reality), judgement and choices. We all have the choice to deal with our most personal imprints, thought patterns and prejudices, thus with the foundations of our biases. The more awareness and clarity we build up, the more we take on self-control and responsibility for ourselves - not least, one of the most important principles of the ancient Greeks is "Know thyself!".
At the level of organisations and companies, a wide variety of individuals play together, interaction is quite essential. Predefined solutions do not work here, it takes a deep examination of structures, anchored biases and priorities. Companies can differentiate themselves from others by improving precisely these factors - there is great potential here in many organisations!
De-biasing is a comprehensive & innovative concept to counter biases at various levels. It is based on the fact that changes in patterns and behaviour are a process - not an isolated event that is sometimes conveyed through Unconscious Bias Trainings.
Learn more about the de-biasing concept for your path to better decisions and positive results!