GLOSS Issue 19 DEC 2014-JAN 2015 - Page 78

So what are beliefs in essence? It is helpful to think of beliefs as simply meanings we’ve attached to the events that occur in life, either through personal experience or adoption through cultural context. Over time, and in accordance with our brain’s desire to streamline our very complicated decision-making processes, this distinction tends to get lost and the meanings we’ve attached to one occurrence start to become more concrete, universal and non-negotiable. At this point our brains behave very much like The Filter Bubble, which Eli Pariser describes in his excellent book of the same name. We selectively filter the information we seek and then absorb to reinforce these newly entrenched beliefs and simultaneously filter out anything that may challenge them. This is part of the reason why true diversity is so important in teams. Ethnic, gender and cognitive diversity actually make a group or team collectively smarter. They allow for points of view that would otherwise be missed in a more homogenous group due to contextual blindness. What this all means is that our beliefs are far more powerful than we give them credit for. But what is more disturbing is that we tend to view our own internal persuasive powers as more than up to the challenge of changing them. Our brains are over-confident Confidence is drummed into those of us who have worked in the corporate w orld. It is seen as one of the defining characteristics of a leader and its absence is seen as a life sentence of working in middlemeh! So much so, that employees are often rewarded for talking themselves, and their capabilities, up while quietly intelligent souls who come at the world with a dose of wariness and caution are not so quietly sidelined and told, ‘Stop being such a downer’. Of course, there’s nothing innately wrong with a healthy sense of confidence or in being engagingly extrovert. In fact, it can be very useful as long as it is supported by a measure of complementary competence. The reasons why over-confidence evolved in our collective psyche are not completely understood, although perhaps having a bit of swagger and being skilled in the persuasive arts was as important to reproduction in our prehistoric years as it appears to be today. However, the problems with over-confidence are twofold. Many of us don’t know where confidence ends and over-confidence begins, but more concerning are the small over-confidences we use in our everyday decision-making — the things we don’t even process as overly confident. The educated guesses we make, the assumptions we use based on past experience and the little generalisations we cumulatively filter the world through have the capacity to create enormous problems. Part of this is socialised into us in schools. Whenever a student asks a teacher how to spell a word or what the capital of a particular state is and the teacher replies, ‘What do you think?’ or ‘Try to answer it yourself’, they are unconsciously increasing the chances of guesswork becoming a lifelong strategy. In fact, when we conduct over-confidence tests in the field, asking random passers-by in the street a series of questions they think they should know the answer to — such as, ‘How many countries are there in Europe?’ — or asking them to point in the direction they think is north, people are far more likely to take a guess than to simply admit, ‘I don’t know’.