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Episode 12: Using Cognitive Biases to Guide Change


In this episode, host Chris Thornton welcomes back Maria Dodd and dives into the different cognitive biases, why they matter, and how they drive behavior. They discuss where these biases show up in the workplace and the challenges that result when trying to address them. Through their conversation, listeners will learn how to leverage biases to make more effective decisions and enhance employee engagement approaches.


This transcript was automatically generated with artificial intelligence. It’s in the queue to go through a review with human eyes!

00;00;00;00 – 00;00;26;04

Hello and welcome to Change@Work, a podcast about the ever evolving world of work and the human behaviors that drive it. I’m Chris Thornton, principal here at Daggerwing Group. We’re consultants who take a slightly different approach to change and how we work with our clients.

00;00;26;06 – 00;00;47;23

We’ll explore some of the things we’ve learned, what to do, what not to do, who we are as a team and as individuals. Joining me today is Maria Dodd, principal here at Daggerwing Maria. Welcome back. Thanks, Chris. Thanks. Having me back. Yeah, absolutely. I love talking with you. You know, every time you come here, I do have to make sure that you’re human.

00;00;47;23 – 00;01;08;29

And I think that’s I think that’s fun. Let’s just ask a couple of questions. By the way, folks, if you haven’t listened to Maria’s past episodes, you absolutely must, because Maria has a whole area of expertise here at Daggerwing that I think is absolutely essential. Maria, why don’t you tell them a little bit about what you’re great at?

00;01;09;01 – 00;01;29;15

So it’s is basically everything to do with psychology and how that we can use psychology to get deeper into, I guess, employees mindsets, their thoughts and their feelings in order to help them and help the organization drive a drive through change. So everything to do with psychology is to get deep insights into doing that as best as we possibly can.

00;01;29;17 – 00;01;53;03

And since you can’t say it yourself, I’ll say it. I think What? You’re so great at doing is making that practical for people who don’t have the experience and expertise that you have. You translate it into something really understanding full and easy to think about and then then put into action. So, Maria, what are we going to talk about today before we prove that you’re human?

00;01;53;06 – 00;02;19;25

We’re going to be talking about cognitive biases or biases in terms of as human beings. What makes us think in certain ways? Why do we do that and how does that drive our behavior? Excellent. All right. Here we go. Time to prove you’re human. Okay. If you had only one sense out of way, hearing, touch, sight, smell. Are there others?

00;02;19;27 – 00;02;42;12

Can you think of any others? That’s. That’s enough. Okay, sure, sure. Very important. Which one? Which one would you want? gosh. So I think the obvious one out of those is sides, because I can’t, you know, I think it’s just fundamentally so important. But the one that you most often want to jump to, I think I have to highlight their taste.

00;02;42;12 – 00;02;59;03

I mean, you’ve got to love food and drink and get enjoyment out of that. And so I can’t imagine that being taken away. So I’ve cheated and I’ve given you two. All right, that’s fine. That’s fine. We’re not actually going to take any of them away. So you’re fine. Do you want to share this one? Let’s. Let’s see if you’re up for it.

00;02;59;07 – 00;03;09;29

What is your biggest irrational fear? I’m going to give you two answers again. Right.

00;03;10;02 – 00;03;30;25

The obvious one that springs to mind is confined spaces. And I didn’t realize this and I think is perfectly rational for me until I was in Vietnam a few years ago with a friend. And we visited the tunnels and it was only as we were entering into the tunnel that I realized I was freaking out and I couldn’t do it, and neither did I ever want to do it.

00;03;30;25 – 00;03;57;29

So confined spaces, which is rational. If you’re going to push me into the more irrational one. Sure, there is something about very perfectly form, very small circular fabric, things that kind of give me the creeps. yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s. That’s. That has a name. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve heard of that. so. So give me an example of a small circular thing that gives you the creeps.

00;03;58;02 – 00;04;16;23

So it could be something in nature. I think nature’s even worse because it’s like, how is it that it’s perfect and small? You know, I can’t eat little berries or little things that you find in nature like that. But then even I think it doesn’t it’s not just nature, it’s it’s little beads and things like that. I just carry me out a little bit.

00;04;16;23 – 00;04;40;11

So we have a craft store here called Michaels. So if I took you into Michael’s into the Beads section, you would absolutely leave. I wouldn’t enjoy it. Okay. All right. I won’t take you to Michael’s to the beads section. Can I share mine? I never get to share mine, so I’m going to share mine. So, you know, in in movies or Netflix and in a characters on a very tall building, in looking over the Edge, I get vertigo.

00;04;40;13 – 00;05;00;02

I feel like I’m going to fall, you know, it is. And I go, I can’t take it. I can’t. And it’s the most ridiculous thing. Tall buildings in real life. Fine. Not great characters on TV shows absolutely hate it. It’s the worst. All right. Thank you for that. Does that make us human? I think it does. We’re human.

00;05;00;02 – 00;05;29;13

We did it. Let’s go. Let’s get into it. So we’re going to talk about cognitive biases as you talked about and why they matter. Marie, let’s get into it. I think it’d be useful for us to start with what cognitive biases actually are. Sure. So what’s the science? I counted bias. It’s a systematic error in thinking that occur when people are processing and interpreting information about around them.

00;05;29;15 – 00;06;00;09

So it’s it’s like a mental shortcut that allows a person to make inferences without having to spend a lot of time and energy on deliberating and and judging them. So if you think about the world and this is a fact, we receive 11 million bits of information every moment and we can only consciously process 40 of them. So 99.99999, probably 9% of what we take in is processed unconsciously.

00;06;00;12 – 00;06;23;06

So it’s a way that our brain has to form these shortcuts, which, you know, we could call them biases. Not necessarily always good, not necessarily always bad, but just a way the brain needs to cope with everything that we’re processing. I think when I heard cognitive bias for the first time, we just assumed it was only negative, right?

00;06;23;06 – 00;06;50;15

That it is something that will actually hurt other people, that it’s often rooted in racism or biases against other people. And so I’ve always had this negative connotation toward it because of how it would affect others and or myself. And I. I think you’ve illuminated something that is it’s it’s a shortcut for your brain to actually focus in on what matters most.

00;06;50;17 – 00;07;15;18

It’s neither good nor bad in and of itself, but it’s certainly can be. And we all have biases. And basically, if you’re alive, you operated biases. This is the only way we can cope. Let’s talk about why they matter and why it’s important that we actually pay attention to our cognitive biases. Yeah, they’re important because as you’ve already highlighted, they they have impacts.

00;07;15;24 – 00;07;55;23

So whether they help us to make quick decisions and as humans to avoid threats, whether that’s real or perceived, which can be really helpful to us. But in you know, obviously in our world, we’re concerned with more and more information in the workplace, specifically that could lead to things like poor decision making, drawing on inaccurate conclusions, focusing in the wrong areas, or over focusing overlooking others, overlooking others views of polling, recruitment, having a distorted view of situations so that can have a significant impact on the business and on employees as well.

00;07;55;24 – 00;08;31;25

So with those insights in mind, Maria, can you take us a little bit deeper into where those biases show up in the workplace and what sorts of challenges we’re looking at when we address them? Yes, sure. I mean, there are hundreds of biases spanning various things. So I’m going to summarize just a few categories, I guess. So one similarity bias, and I know this sounds really obvious, but if you think about it, we tend to prefer what or who is like us.

00;08;31;25 – 00;08;57;22

I wanted something different. Yeah. So those types of biases probably most obviously crop up in people decisions about who tired promote who to assigned projects. It’s the like me bias. you look like me, you seem like me. You’ve got a similar background like me. Therefore I feel safe. I feel like I can trust you. And and and that’s my that’s my preference.

00;08;57;25 – 00;09;19;00

So that could be one for sure. Yeah. That that sense of. Well, you have the same background that I did. We’ve had some of the same experiences I think quite highly of myself, therefore I just think highly of you and that you’ll be capable or more capable than someone else that I don’t understand their background. Exactly. Yeah. What else?

00;09;19;02 – 00;09;43;07

Another one. So experience I think about. We prefer to act quickly rather than take time and there’s actually pressure and and also it’s on us, especially in the workplace, to act quickly. So I think that can lead to making decisions of convenience over, you know, having a more complex evaluation. I think that leads also to the fact that humans have got this in-built need for certainty.

00;09;43;07 – 00;10;16;06

We need to know what’s going on. We want to be decisive and the workplace rewards decisiveness. Yeah, yeah. Downside. Is that a tendency to rush to judgment without considering all of the facts? So these types of biases that probably, you know, they crop up in all places, anywhere where we’re relying on data points or recommendations. It could be when we’re reviewing employees, it could be when we’re making decisions that are really important for the strategy and the fix.

00;10;16;06 – 00;10;48;26

There is to take more time and to get more information that we want to think fast. I think one of the other things that’s coming into my head and maybe into listeners as well, is that we’re starting to, especially with a focus on inclusion, diversity of thought, diversity of people. You you start to question, am I actually looking at the data correctly and do I am I surrounded by people who can understand the data in a way that perhaps I’m not bringing to it, especially as you’re entering?

00;10;48;26 – 00;11;16;02

Well, every situation. But but even as you’re you’re entering a new situations that you’ve never encountered before, that you not go it alone, that you surround yourself with people and make sure that you’ve got decision makers in place are hearing from voices that can help challenge these biases. Do I get that right? Yeah, absolutely. The business benefits of diversity and inclusion is well documented around that diversity and thought will only lead to better decisions.

00;11;16;02 – 00;11;42;14

Are there any other impacts that we should explore? There are a lot that I’m going to touch on, one which I think is quite a hot topic at the moment, given the way that we’re pivoting to to just work in such different ways in terms of remote working, more globalized ways of working, and that one’s around distance, so or proximity, we prefer what’s closest to us only further away.

00;11;42;19 – 00;12;14;11

Yeah, actually in in time and in physical distance, you know, there is a bias of bias. Imagine when when people when they were in the same room together versus people being remote or people being in one geography. And then you have colleagues or peers or whoever in another geography. There’s a bias about what’s more close to me in distance must be more closer to me and in other ways.

00;12;14;11 – 00;12;42;11

So I think there’s a there’s an instinct there to prioritize what’s nearby. So so how do we what do I do? What what do we do? What should leaders do to to challenge that bias of proximity? So, you know, how do we build things in systems and things like that that acknowledge things that are important outside that immediate proximity?

00;12;42;13 – 00;13;05;26

How do we make sure that we are calling on the views of perhaps the people who are further away from us first and call in your remote colleagues first and discuss their ideas in the room first before the ones who are already in the room with you. So what else could we do? So there are things and this applies to all biases, which I always find is really interesting, goes back to you.

00;13;05;26 – 00;13;33;07

The point that you highlighted the beginning around bias is not necessarily being bad or good because we can focus on mitigating the biases. So and I think that, you know, just being aware of a bias isn’t enough. We need we need strategies, as you’re you’re kind of getting at in terms of how do we break these. But when we’re thinking about as well, when we’re bringing colleagues on a journey with us, we can also leverage these biases.

00;13;33;09 – 00;14;03;05

They’re not always a bad thing. And we can sometimes, you know, understand these biases to help help us to make more effective decisions and enhance our communications and engagement approaches to bring people along. A journey through change, for example, by actually leveraging the bias. So I’m you’ve got to help me with that one, because I’m still focused in on bias as something that harms others or limits their potentials or doesn’t allow them to thrive.

00;14;03;05 – 00;14;30;00

So I’m having a hard time understanding how I use my biases, biases to to get to a good, faster. Can you can you make that connection? Yeah, sure. There’s a present bias, for example, and that’s the tendency that you draw. You’d rather settle to something smaller and immediately as a reward than to wait for a future reward, even if that’s going to be greater.

00;14;30;00 – 00;14;55;18

You know, the long term gratification game, we have a tendency and a bias towards wanting immediate gratification. So that sense of urgency is within us instinctively is part of all of these biases. So you might want to dial that up if you are seeing or feeling you know, any kind of procrastination delays and you want to build a sense of urgency.

00;14;55;21 – 00;15;21;27

So, you know, using immediate rewards as an incentive and using ways to get people on board really quickly by giving them that kind of playing to that short term urgency and, you know, putting in place quick wins interest will have a payoff. Interesting. So I can use that sense of I’d like it now as opposed for something that is a smaller win versus waiting longer for a bigger win.

00;15;22;00 – 00;15;44;04

Use that bias to be able to say quick wins, to build momentum toward a change that you’re implementing. Exactly. Not that you don’t go for the longer term win is what I’m hearing. So then you play up the fact that people would like to see progress. Now I’m going to use one more example because I really like this one and I like the term because, you know, these things are biases.

00;15;44;04 – 00;16;13;17

They sound sometimes sound so scientific, but you know, the pretty obvious, this one’s, you know, the bandwagon effect around how do we we have a bias of humans to do what others are doing, you know, to say favorite influences. So that’s why hotels will kind of not tell you to reuse the towels because it’s good for recycling, but tell you how many people in their hotel in the area are using towels because then you’re like, other people are doing it.

00;16;13;17 – 00;16;42;07

I need to be like masses. I need to be like majority. So if we want to build a movement and bring people along, you know that peer to peer influence is actually something that we use every day going in terms of building momentums and building a movement and cultural movements with our clients. And that in itself is you know, playing to that human need for social interaction and inclusion.

00;16;42;14 – 00;17;16;16

That in itself is how we can leverage a bias for good. I like that summary. You’ve given us great examples of how we can use biases to our advantage as we’re leading change. How have we done this with a with a client recently? Yeah. Let me tell you about an example. When we did this with a client and it was working hand in hand with our creative experts who are dabbling in terms of the insight piece that we need to get to a really strong strategy.

00;17;16;18 – 00;17;56;27

So for example, our client, they wanted to, as part of driving their shift towards more modern marketing, they knew that they wanted to be more global in the way that they create content. And they also knew that in order to do that, what we needed to do is put in place processes, behaviors around marketers, not create new and original content, but reusing the content that exists for obvious reasons of efficiency, that builds them better ideas, etc..

00;17;56;29 – 00;23;19;05

Now we took a look at this problem statement and we knew that, you know, we looked deep into the insight that.

More in the Series

Chris Thornton is a Senior Principal and member of the global leadership team at Daggerwing Group. In his role, Chris serves as a source of strategic counsel for Senior Executives with client firms, advising them on how to help clients achieve Executive alignment, transform their cultures and equip and enable people managers to lead and embed change. An expert in the people side of change with both client-side and consulting experience, Chris has worked with leading companies including Nestlé, Pfizer, and GE Aviation to do change right and make it stick. He is also an active speaker on business transformation, a driver of innovation in Daggerwing’s breadth of change consulting services, and the host of Daggerwing Group’s podcast, Change@Work. Chris and his wife were featured in the New York Times for their love of pie.
Maria is a Principal at Daggerwing Group. She has twelve years of change management and engagement programs experience, across a range of sectors including pharmaceutical, technological, automotive, aerospace and financial services. Maria is passionate about psychology and applying human insights to help clients to inspire and enable their people in achieving the organization’s goals. Maria has an MSC in Organizational Psychology and is a Chartered Organizational Psychologist. In 2020, Marie picked up the piano again and got in her daily 10,000 steps in the English countryside.