How Bias Becomes You... And Me... And The Electorate

I'm sure I'm not alone when I tell you that there have been a number - probably many - of times in my life when as right as I thought I was, was as wrong as I turned out to be.

Immediately after those moments I feel angry, foolish, embarrassed and temporarily bunkered before I make my way back to life, hopefully having learned something from the experience.

I'm also sure that like me, many of you have experienced moments where you felt frustrated, angry, doubtful, scared, helpless, powerless, foolish, hopeless, discouraged and lost. When you're feeling some or even all of those emotions you're vulnerable. You're also vulnerable to ICM.

What ICM stands for is: Imprinting, Confirmation Bias and Minimization:

  1. Imprinting - If any of you have taken a psychology course, you've heard of this term which refers to learning where a subject rapidly learns or imitates or follows the characteristics of some stimulus. This was originally made famous by zoologist Konrad Lorenz who demonstrated that newly hatched geese would form a line and follow him. The more you feel any or all the awful feelings listed above, the more you will grab onto someone or something that you deem to be strong, powerful, confident in charge.

  • Confirmation Bias - Once you lock onto that person or idea, you don't want to go back to feeling those awful emotions. As a result you will selectively focus on what reinforces your choice of what you imprinted on. This will take the form of tunnel vision and tunnel hearing.
  • Minimization - To further reinforce your "confidence" in the choice of what you have imprinted on, you will minimize, make excuses or at the extreme, be in complete denial of "facts that are in evidence" (i.e. that should cause you to be wary or at least doubtful). This will take the form of being blind and deaf to seeing or hearing things that might cause you to question what you're imprinting on. It will also lead you to a fanatical view of "my country, candidate, company, etc. right or wrong."
  • Furthermore, the more of the awful emotions mentioned above that you're feeling - which can culminate in feeling discouraged, hopeless and lost - the greater the intensity of your ICM, the greater the tenacity with which you hold onto whoever or whatever you imprint on and the greater you will resist any efforts to influence, dissuade or sway you from that position.

    This process doesn't just take place in the area of presidential candidates, national exceptionalism or racism, it often takes place in the business world.

    In fact, it can prove fatal in many start up companies, because entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable in this area. Too often they will hastily hiring the wrong person which can serious damage the company's chance for success. The more an entrepreneur is highly skilled in one specific area but not in other areas that are necessary for his or her success, the more vulnerable they are to hastily hire or partner with people to fill in their gaps. Then, once they're in place the more likely an entrepreneur's ICM is to take over such that he or she ignores red flags and other warnings until it finally blows up into a painful ending.

    One of the most well known examples of this from the business world that is well known is the path of Apple. Early in his career, Steve Jobs appeared impossible to reign in and when some of his visionary products didn't produce the results he proclaimed they would, the Apple board brought in John Scully to bring discipline and consistency to the company.

    Unfortunately, that resulted is killing off the visionary engine that Jobs represented. And in one of the great ironies in business lore Jobs having selected the wrong fit for Apple and him was followed by the board realizing that they had made the wrong choice to drive a visionary company in choosing Scully.

    Without Jobs' visionary engine and track record of actually producing successful visionary products (the problem was not in the products, but in the timing, implementing and running the company - which he was later able to do after Next and other missteps put a dent in his arrogance), the company floundered.

    As we approach the presidential election in November, we would all do well to pause and ask ourselves in what ways we might be imprinting, confirming our biases and minimizing anything that counters them.

    In that way we can vote not just our conscience, but our common sense that we all possess, even though we frequently stray from both.

    May the next President turn out to be a leader we will happily follow without having to imprint on them.