Human beings have a stubborn propensity for getting in our own way. All those women riding side-saddle and falling off horses, until someone figured out that wearing pants doesn't turn us into men. Pilgrim children's misbehavior triggering witch hunts, because bringing a corn-cob doll to church must surely signal demonic possession. Human nature and common sense, the two factors that ought to guide us, are too often displaced by mistaken beliefs. When reality wins, it's cause for celebration, so join me in cheering some human nature-based breakthroughs.
1. Hands-down, a better option. Hospital infections cause about 100,000 deaths each year, and 1.5 million illnesses. The main culprit? Hands. Touching everything and going everywhere, they're the perfect delivery system for germs. For decades, hospitals engaged in a futile tug of war with doctors and nurses, who, in defiance of posters, seminars, threats and entreaties, wouldn't consistently wash their hands.
Enter Purell. It turns out repeated soaping and rinsing makes hands dry and scaly; Purell's waterless rub doesn't. And hand rub can be applied while walking from patient to patient, instead of stopping at a sink only to find the paper towel dispenser empty. Human nature being what it is, hygiene improved when it stopped wasting time and ruining skin. Next up? Hand rub dispensers that read ID's, so hospitals know exactly who's spreading germs. When it comes to changing behavior, you can talk yourself hoarse, or you can leverage ingenuity and technology for simple, elegant solutions.
2. You can't fight mothers or nature. Early 20th century child-rearing experts were a grim lot, cautioning mothers against touching their young. "Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap," a popular 1928 guide enjoined. "If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight." It took those infamous 1940's terry-cloth monkey studies to prove what every parent instinctively knows: children deprived of affection deteriorate, mentally and physically. Dr. Spock's The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care - second best-seller to the Bible for over 50 years - reached millions of parents by celebrating the innate: "You know more than you think you do," he assured them.
3. The eyes have it. Or maybe not. An eyewitness to a crime used to make for an airtight case. That was before we understood that human memory is fallible, and notoriously suggestible. Subtle cues - facial expressions, tone of voice - are picked up by witnesses, who can end up confirming what the police already believe instead of adding fresh data from their own recollections. Of 300 wrongful convictions, eyewitness identifications played a role in over 70%.
Now, small but ingenious changes to police procedure are factoring in human nature. Traditionally, the officer overseeing a line-up knew who the suspect was, whereas a "blind administrator," ignorant of the suspect's identity, can't bias the eyewitness with unconscious cues. And while the "six pack" of photos (suspect plus five others) used to be shown to witnesses all at once, fewer innocent suspects get selected when photos are viewed one at a time. These and other research-based processes help protect the innocent, and keep all of us safer from harm.
4. Making productivity go "vroom." In 1983, with labor relations at a dismal low, General Motors made a disruptive decision to partner with Toyota on an American plant. Skeptical GM workers flew to Japan for training, whose theme was misleadingly simple: teamwork. Back home, supervisors just yelled when things went wrong. At Toyota, they offered help. Workers got to propose solutions to production line issues; if the improvement saved money, a bonus followed.
When the workers came home, productivity soared, union grievances plummeted, and cars coming off the assembly line received unprecedented quality ratings. Was GM saved? Well, you know human nature: despite the numbers, GM's other plants resisted change. Yet the experiment is still studied in business schools. Trust, engagement and respect yield better outcomes - it's human nature.
5. Take this job and... offer it to the right person. As an entrepreneur, I've seen plenty of bad decisions driven by motivations never discussed or understood. That's human nature: sometimes unconscious impulses overwhelm our rational selves. There's a reason people say workplaces mimic families: when the pressure's on and the boss asks why that report is late, the most stalwart employee might lapse into "mommy's mad at me" mode.
It's same with hiring: we want to believe that stereotypes and assumptions never affect it, but science says otherwise. Fortunately, science doesn't just give us the bad news about unconscious bias, it also offers solutions. In my own a-ha! moment, I realized technology can solve unconscious bias in hiring. Diversity workshops may have failed to move the needle, but here's a guarantee: an algorithm designed to rank skill sets will never assume the Asian guy is better at math.
The hiring platform I built doesn't remove human interactions from the process - trust, engagement and respect don't come from machines. Instead, Unitive's technology handles what humans tend to get wrong. Not just bias, but the poor communication, forgotten priorities and general chaos that often creep into our rushed hiring environments. Unitive's goal is simple: let's get out of our own way when we hire, setting aside our innate flaws to the benefit of job candidates, companies and profits.