Bias number 28 is known as the conservatism bias. This is a bias that affects the way in which people alter their beliefs when given new pieces of information.
In short, people have a tendency to be slow, or conservative, in changing their beliefs when presented with evidence that challenges the held belief. People usually shift their existing belief insufficiently in accordance with new pieces of evidence, giving more weight to their currently-held beliefs than is appropriate. Some psychologists believe this is an extension of the anchoring bias that influences people to make decisions by continually referring back to a core belief, whether it is sound or not.
How does this manifest in the workplace? Sometimes, investors or senior executives will continue to invest in a company, believing in its value, despite the warning signs that materialise in the balance sheets and company announcements. Referring back to the belief that instigated the investment in the first place, even seasoned business people find themselves at the effect of a bias that prevents them from seeing the writing on the wall.
In other cases, say company benefits, HR directors will continue to promote expensive benefits programmes, believing it constitutes good practice. The uptake in service usage of employee assistance programmes, apart from key services like private health insurance, is minimal.
Does it make sense to continue to invest in something that continuously proves to be of little value to the people it is designed to serve? What is it that creates this resistance to change?
For a start, beliefs are deeply held views on life that become entrenched. We regard beliefs as truth, whether we have proof of truth or not. Whether it’s the belief in a Creator that loves us or the belief that we’re all just the product of a biological mutation in an apathetic universe, our beliefs form the very basis of our world view. Beliefs that are held by a group of people become even more entrenched and therefore challenging to shift.
So what does challenge create? Uncertainty. What does uncertainty provoke in people? Fear. What does fear trigger? Survival strategies.
That old chestnut, eh?
Your brain, having been thrown into survival mode by a new and uncertain challenge to its world view, seeks to mitigate the fear by moving slowly, taking on a small portion of the overall evidence and making minor adjustments to your belief system. I mean, jumping feet first into a pool of unexplored evidence, despite its robustness and validity, seems like a stupid thing to do.
And perhaps it is. Discernment helps us make good decisions.
But consider that too much reliance on our already-existing beliefs can severely hinder our growth and development -- and the bank balance. Imagine what life would be like if we held onto the same world view for the entirety of our lives.
Consider the life of a person who has spent a lot of time in the technology sector, for example. In this case, I’ll use myself as an example.
As a 20-something newbie to the world of technology, I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of optimism for its potential to bring people together all over the world. As a 50-something who still operates in the world of technology, I am way more skeptical of the marketing spin put forward by technology companies, in particular Big Tech.
Why? Because I have been witness to the rampant abuses of power not just in technology company cultures but also in the way customers are regarded. Customer data is used and abused without the express consent of customers every day. People are thrown off platforms because they have a difference of opinion to the company management.
What happened to the right to free speech? What happened to the social and political impartiality that technology is supposed to uphold? It looks like there's only one world view that's tolerated. If you dare to oppose it, you're out on your ear and publicly slandered for it.
Sounds like a technocracy to me. Who put technology companies in charge? Did you vote for them?
Well, in a way you kind of did when you failed to inform yourself of their modus operandi. To be fair to them, they've always exercised their power to silence the dissenters, but they've been sly about it, hiding their strategies in algorithms and practices that remain cloaked in clever words to the untrained eye.
Now, does it mean that my belief in the potential for good technology brings has changed? Not at all. I still know that it provides the infrastructure required to expand reach and provide opportunities to people who might not otherwise have been able to access valuable information, education, skills and business potential.
What has changed is my faith in the leadership of technology companies. The past few weeks have confirmed what many of us who have followed technology for years have repeatedly seen — that building a society reliant on technology with next-to-no scrutiny, accountability or adequate regulation has generated a beast, namely Big Tech, who believe themselves to be not only above the law, but self-appointed arbiters of “truth”.
This is a very dangerous precedent. It has to be dealt with, and fast.
When I first discovered this, I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to give up my idealistic point of view that the use of technology forges a key route to raising the consciousness of the planet. It took me about a year to come to terms with it.
It was difficult for a reason — it created feelings of disillusionment and disappointment that blew apart my optimism. It meant I had to search for alternatives to the mainstream. It meant that I had to work harder to find technology partners that shared my values of freedom, integrity and customer-centrism.
Now, I am grateful that I am awake to the dangers of using technology that compromises people’s rights to confidentiality and freedom. As a psychosocial health champion, I know how easy it is to manipulate people. As someone who values integrity, I know it is my responsibility to protect those rights in any way I can.
Choosing the right partners is critical, and thankfully, the hegemony of Big Tech is being eroded by new players who do value privacy and data protection rights. I feel empowered and aligned by taking such a stand, no matter the challenges that it throws my way. Equally, I feel empowered to know there are emerging leaders who share my views and are making things happen.
Remember: you are a work in progress. What you believe now is not what you’ll believe next year. Loosen your grip on your belief systems. Recognise the value in allowing fluidity in your beliefs. Establish secure roots that enable you to go with the flow. Grow in brilliance as a result.