Category: Psychology

Consciousness & Self Examination

Anthony Hopkins

Time to read: 3 mins

Last night I finished watching season one of WestWorld.  WestWorld is a theme park set in the wild west, which is inhabited by android hosts (robots that look and act humans).  Although the setting sounds less than exciting; It’s the themes that are explored which has kept audiences intrigued.
 
For the android host the story line is driven around the ideas of consciousness and choice.  For the guests of the park (the humans) it is all about finding and following your deepest desires without consequences.
 
Some characters follow their desires which are brutal and perverted.  And others follow their desires to be noble and heroic.
 
As I sat in bed in a dark room.  The only source of light came from the iPad on my lap.  The light illuminated my face.  As I watched the final episode with my headphones on.  I wondered how the pursuit of consciousness by the android host related back to us humans in any way.   The closest equivalent I could come up with was self-examination.  After some thinking I concluded that consciousness and self-examination are closely related.
 
 
Three elements…
There are three elements of self-examination. The first element is the way that we view ourselves. The second is our ideal view, or what we want to be.  The third and final element is the comparison we make between ourselves and our ideals.
 
 
A view of our selves
We think of ourselves differently depending on the roles we are in.  And in life we have different roles that we play.  We are parents, professional, best friends and maybe even a mentor to others.
 
I view myself as a great Business Analyst… and a kinda ok husband.  The way that we view ourselves can (and actually does) determine our behaviour.  With that being said, it’s important that we don’t delude ourselves and hold a view that is fairly accurate with reality.
 
 
Our ideal
This is the ’should be’ point of view.  It’s an ideal that we are setting out to achieve.  We can get ideals from different sources.  But in most scenarios ideals come from observing others.  Another source of ideals come from standards and precedence that have already been set. But again, these standards have usually been set by another individual.
 
Going back to my previous example, I can judge my Analyst skills on a standard that a more senior Business Analyst has obtained.  It could be a qualification like a CBAP certification or looking at the years of experience across different industries.
 
Whatever our ideal is, it’s advisable to have something that is ambitious but still within reach.
 
 
The comparison.
Making a comparison is what we are most familiar with doing.   Comparing ourselves with our an ideal is very similar for performing a gap analysis.  When performing a gap analysis, we identify what needs to be done for us to move from one state to another.
 
 
Final thoughts…
Remember to:
  1. Have an honest view of ourselves, too often we see ourselves as less then.
  2. Choose your ideals carefully, make sure that you select an ideal that is realistic.
 
Without these two points, you’ll end up with a comparison that is unfair on yourself. Self-examination is a process that is used to improve yourself, so make sure you use it in a positive and constructive manner.
 
 
 

Information vs Affirmation (& how to distinguish between the two)

img_0161
Time to Read: 3 mins
 
A cognitive bias describes a pattern of thinking that deviates from logical and sound reasoning.
 
While completing my degree in 2014, I still remember spending an entire class (3hrs) looking at the cognitive biases and how they effect organisations, management and decision making. It was the first time I had ever come across cognitive biases and I found the topic to be fascinating.  I started to reflect on my past decisions and wondered how much of my thinking was influenced by cognitive biases.
 
 
 
Examples
Cognitive biases was popularised by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman; they dispelled the belief that in business, humans made decisions based on evidence and logic. For their works they Kahneman (illustrated above) was awarded a Nobel prize in 2002.
 
Here are just two of the example to keep in mind as you continue to read:
 
  • Confirmation Bias:  The tendency to find information that only supports or confirms our point of view. And
  • Ingroup Bias: The tendency to to favour those that are in the same group as us.
 
 
 
The dangers of biases
By its very nature cognitive biases are unavoidable; in that, when they occur we are unaware that they are occurring. As we can’t  consciously control cognitive biases from happening, the only thing that we can do is be aware that they exist, and the situation where they are most likely to occur.
 
Having biases within ourselves is one thing.  But having biases in the technology that we use is something that we rarely think about.  Just as human bias is not immediately detectable, neither are the biases that exist it the technology that we use. To make sense of this topic I want to separate technology into two categories:
 
  1. Technology that we control and
  2. those the we don’t.
 
 
 
Technology that we can control 
This category describes technology that we know is accurate and true, in essence it’s technology without any biases.  As an example when we use a tool such as a calculator, a excel worksheet or even a map to get directions on our phones.  

 

When using these types of technologies we are confident that the information is real and that because information is in plain sight; you can identify street names and recognise building on a map.  You can see and understand the logic behind a calculator and control the formulas on a excel spreadsheet.

 
 
 
And technology that we don’t
Then we have technology that we don’t control.  Some examples of these technologies are large social media sites, search engines and intelligence assistance like Siri or Alexa.
 
At times (more often than we think) these technology will try to make decision on our behalf, they predict want we want to see and hide what we don’t.  Behind an attractive, simple and user friendly UI is an enormous amount of complexity which is hidden away from us.  Hidden, in the same way as our own cognitive biases.
 
 
 
A design problem?
Cognitive biases is something that we can’t control, but with regards to technology, this is something that we can control. The problem doesn’t lie so much with the technology, but in it’s design and design is something we have conscious control of.
 
Whether we are designers or not, at a minimum we should all be aware that biases do exist in some of the technology that we use and how they could be influencing our thinking and understanding.
 
 
 
Information vs Affirmation
Take some time to think about the two cognitive biases that were mentioned earlier…
 
When we are using tools that we control (i.e. that have no bias) we can be sure that the we are getting Information.
 
When we are using technology where biases exist, we are more likely to be receiving information that confirms our points of view and from sources that reflect a similiar opinions that we hold.  Whether our views are right or wrong, what we are getting is Affirmation.
 
I just think it’s important that we can distinguish between the two…

Parenting Success

 

Noah - Drawing 1
Time to read: 2 mins.

After spending the entire weekend alone with my son, I not only realised how much he has changed and grown but how adults are also in a constant state of change and growth.

The habits that a 4 year old adopts are no different to the habits that adults adopt, in that they both change our behaviour and who we are as people.

 

Our Children

As parents, we view children as our responsibility. It is our responsibility to set up the right routines, habits and instil morals that we believe are essential for them to succeed in life.

We sometimes battle with our children and diligently try to explain to them the importance of listening, cleaning up after themselves, going to bed on time and other important skills, tasks and rituals that can sometimes seem a little trivial (especially at the age of four).

 

Ourselves

In our minds, the same battles occur, only they are happening within ourselves. We try to explain why we need to look after our health, work out more often, eat better, complete a particular certification or qualification, get promoted and network more efficiently.

 

Our Parents

But what happened to our parents? Once we became adults, did they just concede and say ‘well we did all that we could’. Do they assume that we just won’t listen anymore and stop giving advice? Do they assume that we know the world better than they do?

Kids need parenting, once a kid becomes an adult, it is assumed that they can parent themselves and from that point, the parents are no longer responsible…

The question is, are we grown up enough to parent ourselves into being a better human being in the same way that we instruct our kids?

 

Parenting ourselves

Selecting the right words and techniques to motivate children is a skill. Even more a skill is knowing the right words and techniques to use on ourselves. After a while, it’s easy to see the patterns in behaviour in a child, but we fail to see them in ourselves.

Correcting patterns of behaviour that we see in our kids is sometimes difficult. We sometimes choose to defer taking any action and wait for them to ‘grow up’ so that they are more attentive, are able to concentrate, process more complex information and make better decisions.

Unfortunately, adults don’t have same luxury.

 

Measures of Success

When we see good or even great kids, a significant factor is parenting. The parents have mastered ‘the skill’ that we discussed earlier.

They have put in enough time with their kids and know the right words to say and which techniques to use. The measure of success is how their kids have turned out.

Correspondingly, when we see good or great success in other adults (or even ourselves), they too have mastered ‘the skill’. Adults who devote enough time to themselves know the right words to say and the technique to use to move them into action.

How they live their lives (all aspects of it) and the legacy they leave behind is a measure of their success.

Psychological Safety & Microaggression

Laszlo Bock

Laszlo Bock

Time to read: 4 mins

 

A colleague recently recommended that I listen to an interview with Google’s Lazlo Bock (the company’s VP of People Operations) on the Hidden Brain podcast.  Towards the end of the interview, Lazlo mentioned two terms that most of us may be unfamiliar with.  Although we have an understanding of them and may have even experienced the phenomena.  The two terms were:

  • Psychological Safety; and
  • Microaggression.

Lazlo’s interview delved into topics such as how employee reviews are done, how employers decide which staff members receive a pay increase, the hiring process, and other HR-related topics.

 

Unless you’re working in an extremely progressive workplace, most of these topics are somewhat outside our control and influence.

 

 

Psychological safety

The topic of psychological safety is intriguing because it’s something that can be observed in smaller teams and in organisations as a whole. It may even exist within your own family.

 

It’s something that’s hard to describe in words. When psychological safety exists in the workplace, we say it’s a ‘really nice’ workplace; when it doesn’t exist, we hear the workplace described as ‘difficult’ or just plain ‘bad’.

 

What are we trying to say with these generic adverbs and adjectives?

 

 

What it is

Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe from interpersonal risks. ‘Safe’ teams are teams in which members feel accepted and respected.

 

 

A practical example

I recently joined a new team, and during our first retrospective I was asked how I transitioning. I responded by saying that I found all of the team member to be very open and friendly. The scrum master added:

 

“The thing I like most about this team is that there is no one dominant personality within the group.”

 

Despite the defined roles and a certain hierarchy, everybody made time for each other, and no one was too proud to admit a mistake or say that they missed something. To me, the level of transparency was what made the team great and enjoyable to work with.

 

People felt safe, and no one was criticised.

 

 

The majority and the minority

Our team produced better results, they were generally more relaxed, got more work done, and in a lot less time.

 

Because our team consisted of more senior team members, an assumption was made that this was the reason our team ran so well. And so, in an attempt to improve other teams, two of our most senior staff members were swapped for ‘newbies’. But this didn’t improve the results of the other teams or diminish our own. That’s because the working culture of the majority influenced the minority.

 

 

And microagression…

The other topic in the Lazlo interview, microaggression (one word) is a topic everyone should be aware of. Microaggressions happen every day. When they occur, they’re usually done unconsciously and without intent.

 

There is an interesting website where microaggression is explained through photos. While some of these photos are blatantly offensive, others make you stop and think. Putting yourself into someone else’s position and understanding how the words we use can be hurtful is an underutilised skill. I implore you to give the article a quick look.

 

 

Stretching out the group

Microaggression has a strong association with race and ethnicity, but microaggressions can (and should) be applied to other minority groups associated with gender, sexuality, age, those with disabilities and religious beliefs.

 

 

The Freeman approach

Because microaggressions usually happen without conscious bias, what can we do about them? I like Morgan Freeman’s approach, which is to ‘stop talking about it’. There is no need to point out a person’s race or ethnicity (or any of the groups mentioned above). Just talk to a person as a person. Again, I implore you to check out the article to understand what a microaggression is.

 

We’re more likely to see microaggressions in casual social settings than in a professional working environment.

 

 

Be the change 

Looking at my example of psychological safety, we can see how the majority in a group has a strong influence over the minority.

 

Trying to change the majority is not easy. It’s even more difficult when you’re in the minority. But sometimes it’s the only option that we have as individuals. Eventually, if enough individuals change, then the majority will change and the way to start is with those within your own circle of influence.

 

 

Comparing the two

Microaggressions can destroy a psychologically safe environment. A psychologically safe environment encourages and demonstrates how we should treat others – that is, by relating to others without prejudice, by always giving them the benefit of the doubt, and generally having a positive and understanding attitude towards them.

 

It also works the other way around. By looking at the benefits of psychological safety, we can logically conclude that psychological safety inhibits forms of microaggression.