We are well into the first global pandemic that most of us have ever experienced. I imagine many find each other thinking about the state of our world. For some of us that world is limited to the influences of our local or regional circle, while for others the world is just that - all seven or so billion of us. These thoughts can be stressful.
Twitter is a fascinating platform for insights into what some of us are thinking. We’ve all heard some notion of the idea that is easier to validate yourself through finding somebody with the same leanings as you then it is to challenge those leanings. For some, this is part of the process of radicalization. We are right. They are wrong. We sift through people and experiences that influence our life, and methodically remove those that are wrong. Pretty soon, whatever we think it validated because everything left in our life reflects that. When it goes too far, those who disagree are not only wrong, they are bad. Sadly, religion is probably the strongest example of this sort of influence and personal validation.
But this is not a post about religion - today I want to think about how we think.
For all its warts, Twitter represents a very real global perspective. In fact, after an initial selection of an individual tweet or topic, all bets - as they say - are off. Twitter becomes the most broad stage for uninformed, mismanaged thought that our society has ever known. This isn’t to place judgment, but rather to say that there is no filter, and due to the ability to basically hide within the ether, there is no real threat of ramification for bad behavior. There is only one constant: brutal, unfettered, for-better-or-for-worse honesty. While someone’s complete and utter nonsense is obviously meant to trigger, what the platform offers more than anything else is truth.
I was recent reacquainted with an old favorite - the Genesis anthem, Land of Confusion (1986). In the song, Phil Collins issues the following warning:
There's too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go 'round
Can't you see this is a land of confusion?
Ooh this is the world we live in (Oh-oh-oh)
And these are the hands we're given (Oh-oh-oh)
Use them and let's start trying (Oh-oh-oh)
To make it a place worth living in
Ooh Superman, where are you now?
When everything's gone wrong somehow
Quick - Is Superman a Republican or a Democrat?
Wait! Please don’t answer that. Think rather about the degree of certainty of the answer that came into your head. Whether you thought one way or the other, how certain were you of your initial thought reaction? For reference, consider the following scale:
Clear Republican | Likely Republican | Not sure | Likely Democrat | Clear Democrat
Take a moment now and consider why your initial answer came to you with the force that it did. If there wasn’t much force, consider there wasn’t. Now take a moment to disassemble your thoughts. Challenge your conclusions. Juxtapose your gut reaction with your experience related to Superman, and see if you arrive somewhere different.
In addition to not being about religion, this post has nothing to do with politics. While religion and politics might be only the most conventional ways of establishing bias, my intent here is to consider bias… to separate the wheat from the chaff as they say. Our thoughts and habits are a veritable mine field of bias. Sometimes even our reactions reflect bias and we express that bias even before we have a chance to think about why we may have reacted the way that we did. So it should come as no surprise that bias can be a significant an inhibitor of Organizational Health.
This post also had nothing to do with soccer, but soccer at its highest levels is an interesting forum for bias. Spain’s Real Madrid, arguably though to my own chagrin the most successful club in Spain and Europe, once featured a player who at the conclusion of the match lamented that his team didn’t argue with the referee enough. This wasn’t a reflection of the referee’s quality on the day or the number of decisions he had rightly or
wrongly officiated. What he was suggesting rather was that his team should have complained more and early in order to create the doubt, which may have afforded his side a key favorable decision at some critical point later in the match. Grown men - millionaires playing a child’s game - actively looking to protest decisions, which they would more than likely know were correct in order to create a bias that could be helpful later on in the match. That’s a powerful thing, but I’m not sure if the fact that just about everybody does it makes it right.
Earlier this week, I was walking to pay for my parking in Washington, DC. Perhaps 30 feet in front of me, the passenger window of a street-parked, modern interpretation of a classic American muscle car with tinted windows and Maryland plates lowered and defenestrated a glass bottle, which shattered immediately on the sidewalk.
I knew what kind of people had made it happen. Although I didn’t take it personally (the bottle was in no way aimed at me and I didn’t get the feeling as if it was intentionally demolished in my path), I wasn’t happy about it. I came so very close to sharing my thoughts on the matter… before I didn’t.
Now I may not be great at mediating my emotional reactions, but I’m trying. What my gut-reaction assessed as an ignorant, selfish jerk, might actually have been somebody who had tried and failed to get the bottle into the softer grass and dirt just beyond the concrete. It might have been the frazzled parent of a child who couldn’t make it to the potty and took advantage of the only available receptacle, which now needed to be removed from the vehicle. Maybe they were just a jerk, but being fair and being healthy means that I didn’t have enough data to conclusively make that call.
My assessment of the litterer, regardless of the situation, matters little. What was important for me was that I recognized my initial bias. That bias can create all sorts of permutational impacts. People on teams rely so much on their leaders. The history of work is - ahem - ‘littered’ with instances where leaders exhibited bias against employees who should have experienced different and perhaps better outcomes. Healthy leaders are more in tune with their bias and will either preempt or pivot based on their bias coming into play.
In this blog there is no need for 3-5 healthy considerations - only one: Be aware of your
bias. Being healthy means being healthy in spite of any bias you might have. For many employees, being a healthy leader might just make you their own Superman or Wonder Woman!
In researching and fact-checking this post after I wrote most of it, I happened upon the video for Genesis Land of Confusion. For those who don’t remember it, the video features almost claymation-like caricature puppets in the forms of then-modern political figures like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, among others.
I’d like to think that I had forgotten the video, which I almost certainly haven’t seen since the halcyon MTV days of the 1980s as I carried us towards the political references earlier in the text. Perhaps I did… or maybe it was just bias.