How leaders can identify cognitive bias and thrive in the fast-evolving jobs landscape
By Shalini Bhattacharya, Founder & Leadership Coach,White Ray Coaching
February 13 2020: The 21st century business landscape is a complex and adaptive environment characterized by fast-changing market trends, rapidly evolving technology, and rising externalities in the form of geopolitical events that impact the community and the world at large.
To maximize success and thrive in this competitive landscape, today’s leaders, as well as the workforce, need to operate at their highest potential not only by aligning their actions to their big picture vision but also identifying their leadership gaps. In doing so, today’s leaders can balance efficiently between short-term gains and long-term sustainable outcomes.
The changing nature of work and the rising need for upskilling
At the cusp of the 4th industrial revolution, we are witnessing a major transformation in business processes as a result of largescale technological adoption. In fact, a report titled ‘The Future of Jobs’ by the World Economic Forum has estimated that innovative technologies will create nearly 133 million new jobs by 2025. Therefore, there will be many new and lucrative opportunities for professionals.
However, these job roles will be highly tech-centric and will require professionals to upskill themselves to remain relevant in the fast-evolving jobs landscape. The same report also highlights that 42% of the core skills within job roles are expected to change by 2022.
People will need to become more flexible in learning and adapting new skills as this will give them to chance to learn and grow. Being complacent, in such a scenario, would just delay the process. In the world of reskilling, a true leader will be a person who will operate with a growth mindset, who will act in service to others, empowering a group of people to perform tasks on their own. Such a growth mindset will allow leaders to take risks and learn from their mistakes to achieve further excellence and set them apart from others.
Challenging biases to emerge as a true leader
To grow and thrive as leaders in the age of complexity, we need to understand the most common biases and how they can distract us. As Psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman says – ‘Cognitive biases are like optical illusions, people think as they see’. Biases are your prejudices, assumptions and personal preferences. There are several types of unconscious biases that have been ingrained in our minds and can influence our judgment and decision making abilty. Biases can hamper recruitment, performance evaluation, promotion and succession planning, innovation and creation of high-performing teams. Here’s a look at the biases that leaders must overcome to taste true success in the uncertain business ecosystem.
Facts and Information biases – In order to disrupt the trends, Leaders require a solid vision and the facts required to support that vision. However, there is a huge difference between being an innovator and an imitator. There are people who will gather ideas and facts just to talk about them, while true leaders will use these ideas to apply them into meaningful action. Leaders must overcome fact and vision biases to step out of their comfort zone and take responsibility for innovation.
Confirmation Biases - Cognitive psychologist Dr. Peter Cathcart Wason once conducted a number of experiments known as Wason's rule discovery task. His theory and experiment proved that people have a tendency to seek information that confirms their own existing beliefs and people often gather facts to validate their belief even if it's not conducive. Unfortunately, this type of bias can hinder our performance and also prevent us from making the right decision as the objectivity gets blurred. Like I mentioned, It can also influence the decisions we make and can lead to poor or faulty choices. Confirmation bias is extremely difficult to overcome since no one likes to admit that they’re wrong, the act of being always right and proving the point can have a negative impact on our growth cycle.
Egocentric bias - The egocentric bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to rely too heavily on their own point of view when they examine events in their life or when they try to see things from other people’s perspectives. This type of bias can cloud the emotional side of your mind, as you don’t see the other person’s perspective. Therefore, it becomes all about - “I know it and I have more experience or expertise in this field” or “who are you to question my judgment?” It goes without saying that this sort of bias does more harm than good. When this bias takes over, people begin underestimating others’ viewpoints or start ignoring it altogether. Mistakes, in this case, are bound to happen.
Blindspot - While we notice flaws in others very easily, we often fail to see our own. We consistently overlook what is actually happening and become too subjective. It's quite natural for humans to have blind spots which can distort our perception of reality without us realizing and lead to faulty thinking and decisions. Self-awareness followed by constructive feedback can help us overcome this bias
In order to challenge all the aforementioned biases, we need to master the ‘5 As’ as I call it – Awareness, Acceptance, Authenticity, Adaptability, and Affability. In this age of disruption, adopting a mindset replete with these 5 factors will allow leaders to have an edge over their competition. Apart from this, this will also allow leaders to bridge their leadership gaps and create a high-performance team of professionals who love their jobs.
Here’s an in-depth look at the 5 As
Awareness of your self, your current reality vs perceived reality, your self-limiting beliefs and how it might hinder your growth, your emotional responses to the current status quo are extremely important. Furthermore, you must be aware of the current environment and what is needed from your end to make the shift towards success.
Accepting reality and moving forward without making any false assumptions. Complete acceptance allows you to engage all of your energy into your current task so that you can maximize your chances of performing and leading well. Acceptance is not about accepting the situation, it's about moving ahead with new knowledge about yourself.
Drop the façade! When you don’t operate with authenticity, you come from a place of force and internal conflict even if no one else is aware of it. This can be very draining. Understand the fact that we are all imperfectly perfect and that we all have blind areas. Master and leverage your existing strength, figure out ways that will help you pump up your strength.
Adaptably and agility:
Be flexible and adaptable, learn new skills, and cultivate a growth mindset. New skills will help you stay relevant, continuously learn and grow. Machines are getting smarter and it is important for leaders to befriend machines and not fear that automation could take over their jobs. It's about collaboration not about contrariety.
According to a report from SmartSheet, 40 percent of workers spend at least a quarter of their workweek on repetitive tasks, and 70 percent of workers say the biggest opportunity for automation is to reduce time wasted on repetitive work. When automation removes the need to perform repetitive, redundant tasks, human employees can focus on meaningful, creative work that adds value. In order to work alongside machines, the workforce will need to acquire innovative skills such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, data science, etc. Thus, leaders must focus on honing an agile skillset while training their teams as well.
Affability - Develop and build trusted relationships with employees, colleagues, and your team. While it will be necessary for people to work alongside technology, there will also be a growing need for people to develop specialized skills for how they interact with each other. These include creativity, collaboration and interpersonal dynamics|
Continuous learning and development must become the new norm if individuals and organizations want to stay ahead of the race. Hence, growth mind-set and behaviors become all the more imperative, leaders must learn and unlearn habits in order to meet the needs of their people and their organizations in the age of reskilling.
Adult learning can be challenging. However, numerous research and studies from the field of neuroscience shows that our brain has the ability to repair and rewire itself throughout life which means we don’t have any reason to complain and resist change as human being we are capable to learn and grow. Therefore, statements like ‘I’m not good with technology’ or Machines will take away my job’ can now be replaced by positive thoughts and actions. At the end of the day, it is all about the mindset. By embracing change and becoming more cognitively flexible, we can surely thrive in the age of complexity.