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  • Writer's pictureEli

Not enough of meaning : Uncovering Cognitive Biases in the Workplace

Updated: Jul 6, 2023



As human beings, we are wired to find meaning and make sense of the world around us. We are essentially "meaning-making machines." In situations where there is not enough information or data to form a clear understanding, our minds have a tendency to fill in the gaps by creating stories and patterns. This cognitive bias, often referred to as the "not enough of meaning" bias, can lead us to perceive connections and draw conclusions even when the evidence is sparse or inconclusive. It is a natural cognitive process that helps us make sense of our experiences, but it can also introduce biases and inaccuracies in our thinking. We fill in characteristics from stereotypes, generalities, and prior histories:
  • Group Attribution Error: Making assumptions about individuals based on stereotypes or group characteristics. For instance, overlooking the unique skills of team members by assuming that all marketing professionals are inherently creative.

  • Authority Bias: Favouring the opinions or decisions of authority figures without critical evaluation. An example of this is unquestioningly accepting a manager's idea without considering its feasibility or exploring alternative perspectives.

We tend to find stories and patterns even when looking at sparse data: Credit: Splitpics UK

  • Clustering Illusion: Perceiving non-random patterns or clusters in small samples of random data. In a work environment, this bias can be observed when interpreting sporadic employee absences as evidence of an underlying trend or pattern, overlooking the random nature of individual circumstances.

  • Anecdotal Fallacy: Relying on personal anecdotes or isolated incidents as evidence can lead to distorted judgments. For example, assuming that a single negative customer review represents the overall satisfaction level of your client base, without considering the majority of positive feedback.

  • Gambler's Fallacy: Believing that past random events can influence future outcomes. In a work context, this bias can be seen when assuming that an employee who has experienced a series of failures is due for a success, disregarding the independent nature of each event.

We imagine things and people we are familiar with or fond of as better:

  • Out-group Homogeneity Bias: Assuming employees from a different department share similar work styles or attitudes due to their group affiliation. For instance, thinking that all IT department members approach problem-solving in the same way.

  • Halo Effect: Forming an overall positive impression of a person based on one exceptional trait. An example would be assuming a team member is exceptionally skilled in all areas simply because they excel in one specific skill.

  • Hindsight Bias: Believing that we predicted an event's outcome or had prior knowledge of it after it has occurred. For instance, claiming that we knew a marketing campaign would fail, despite not expressing such certainty beforehand.

  • Self-consistency Bias: Overestimating our ability to maintain consistent attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors over time. For example, assuming we will always have the same level of motivation and dedication to a project in the future.

  • Time-saving Bias: Overestimating the time saved by taking shortcuts or using efficiency tools, leading to inadequate time management. An instance of this would be underestimating the time required to learn and adapt to a new software system, resulting in missed deadlines.

By understanding and mitigating these biases, we can strive to foster a healthier and more productive work environment, where biases are acknowledged and decisions are made with clarity and fairness.

Read more and explore real-life anecdotes from work environment that bring these biases to life.

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