Even President Trump has had to admit that things are more complicated than he initially thought! While this is no surprise to most of us, many people don’t even notice that their brain is massively simplifying the complexities of the world they live in just to make some sense of it. What are you over-simplifying?
The Brexit arguments for the UK’s Leave campaigners were reduced to very simplistic emotional statements that were easy to understand. The Remain campaign floundered with the complexity of trying to articulate the impact of disentangling the UK economy and legal system from 40 years of intense and very complicated negotiations. They didn’t manage to simplify the benefits of remaining part of the EU enough for people to comprehend. This made it very tempting to go with the argument that was easy to understand. For many, the alternative was just too difficult to think about (and all the fearmongering didn’t help – surely it couldn’t be that bad!).
Your Lazy Brain
Your brain is very energy-hungry and fundamentally quite lazy. It needs just the right amount of glucose and oxygen to function well. Our Prefrontal Cortex, the very thin outer layer at the front of our brain, where we do all our conscious thinking and decision making is particularly sensitive to any drop in energy. In fact it will cease all movement in the rest of the body in order to conserve energy for complex thinking. You can check this out when next walking with a friend. Just spontaneously ask them to do a difficult calculation like multiplying 927 by 13. They will probably slow down or even stop walking and look at you with a weird expression as their brain tries to make sense of what was just asked of it.
Your brain is always looking for the most energy-efficient way to manage its thinking processes. This means simplifying things because expending precious energy on complex thinking takes a lot of effort and is mentally exhausting which has a direct impact on our physical energy.
The mechanisms the brain uses to simplify complex issues are referred to by psychologists and neuroscientists as ‘Biases’. I like to call them Thinking Traps and this is the second in a series of mini-articles about the SEEDS® Model developed by David Rock. This convenient model groups the dozens of biases that have been identified into five categories. For a brief overview of the model, click here.
E is for Expedience
The first ‘E’ in the SEEDS model is for ‘Expedience’ – this bias is about the availability of information and the ease with which we can confirm it.
While this mechanism has had evolutionary benefits for us over the millennia of human existence, it can be dangerous to over-simplify business or the leadership and management of people. The global financial crises was largely due to the over-simplification of extremely complex financial products, which in the end no-one really understood at all.
It’s interesting to see politicians use the predominance of this bias on our thinking by creating a very simple slogan that gets repeated over and over. It was taken advantage of in the Brexit referendum by the Leave Campaign as mentioned above and was used to devastating effect by Donald Trump in his Presidential Campaign. Firstly, Trump destroyed his Republican opponents one by one by giving them a very simple and derogatory label for example: “Little Marco” (Rubio) and “Lyin’ Ted (Cruz). Once he had them out of the way he attacked the Democrat Candidates with “Crazy Bernie” (Saunders) and “Crooked Hilary” (Clinton). When the FBI announced a few days before the election that they were re-opening an investigation into Hilary Clinton’s emails, for many people it quickly confirmed and crystallised the readily available information (Crooked Hilary).
However, using this tactic can backfire very badly when a simple message that is being promoted is demonstrated not to be true. Theresa May became rather robotic in her announcement of the need for ‘Strong and Stable’ leadership. However, her U-turns on her Manifesto and a number of other mishaps created a new and very damaging label for her; ‘Weak and Wobbly’. As there seemed to be more evidence of this than the former she lost her political majority and was left with a very weak and unstable government.
I’m sure there were many other factors at play because we now live in a very complex political environment, but the power of the Bias of Expedience is not to be underestimated.
The mess the US president got himself into with his early executive orders is proof that some leaders blunder and stumble into exceptionally complex situations just because they allowed their brains to over-simplify and use information that was convenient. The UK government is in danger of falling into this Thinking Trap with the Brexit negotiations.
The bias of Expedience shows up a lot in management where managers form an opinion of certain staff being good (having a halo) and others being bad (having horns). Then they only see behaviour that confirms their belief and ignore any examples that contradict it. It is also the case that many Leaders and Managers are too busy to think. They are continuously overloading their brains with ‘stuff to do’ and jumping to expedient conclusions which can have serious consequences like making poor decisions, losing their credibility and the power to be effective.
The antidote to the bias of Expedience is to consider all the information available and seek alternative perspectives even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. It is important to note that any discomfort is often caused because your brain hates being wrong and will feel a drop in status if it has to admit that there are things it does not know, or which it may have mistaken. This produces a nasty shot of neurochemicals like adrenalin. A wise leader or manager will recognise that the feelings of discomfort are not necessarily because the alternative information itself is wrong, it’s just a normal brain-response to a drop in status. The uncomfortable feelings can be tempered by taking a few deep breaths and becoming more mindful. Once your brain has calmed down from its reactive reflex to a drop in status you can remind yourself about how alternative views can help you avoid even greater problems and achieve even greater rewards.
So when it comes to the bias of Expedience it is probably wise to consider the following questions:
– Who is providing you with information? Is it balanced?
– How many assumptions are you making due to the information that happens to be readily available?
– How good are you at listening to the counter arguments to your position (even when it hurts)?
– How mindful are you being about the fact that you have the bias of Expedience?
All the cutting edge Leadership literature is now discussing the need for greater self-awareness. Recognising and taking appropriate action to mitigate the bias of Expedience is an important ingredient of success for any business in the 21st Century. So, avoid getting trapped by your thinking and resist the temptation to over-simplify or use expedient information that may be incomplete or even wrong!
If you have any questions about any of the above or would like to know more about developing strategies for raising the self-awareness of your Leaders and Managers please get in touch.
Remember . . . stay curious!
With best regards,