A common theme I heard growing up
was that life was better back in the
good old days.
I remember my dad complaining about cars not being
as good as they were back when he was young or that
they were far easier to work on than today’s computer-
controlled cars. Food tasted better, TV shows were
more entertaining, education was better, etc.
Now that I’m older, I can appreciate where my dad
was coming from. Sometimes, I find myself saying
that, yes, of course things were better in the good old
days. But that is an uncritical bias that I have. A sort of
romantic notion that things are more complicated now
and not as good as they once were.
I have lived through the eras of black and white to colour
to high def TV, Atari to Commodore 64 to PCs and
Macs, 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs, VHS tapes to DVDs
to Blu Rays to Netflix. Clearly, at least when it comes to
technology, things may be more complicated, but they
are also better—and cheaper—than in the past. Cars are
safer. Communication is easier. Houses are more efficient.
The web has connected people all over the planet.
An uncritical bias favouring the past is only one of
many biases that we may hold without even realizing
it. And these unrecognized biases can negatively affect
decision making. During a recent course I attended on
pension board trust management, we discussed some
of the biases that can affect good outcomes when
making decisions, both in our personal lives and at
work. Here are four.
- Optimism bias – the tendency to think that one’s
future is rosier than it really will be
- Recency bias – the tendency to remember the last
few things in a list more than those in the middle,
and to assume items at the end are more important
- In-group bias – the tendency to give preferential
treatment to members of one’s own group
- The rush-to-solve bias – the tendency to overlook
data and other factors before making a decision
The next time you serve on a bargaining committee,
undertake a grievance investigation, or work to resolve
a conflict, think about what your individual biases
might be. How might they affect your decision making?
Practicing the art of self-awareness for any bias
you might have will help you make better decisions.