Future Society

Six seconds: decision making in the era of change

10 December 2018 | Written by Alessandra De Carlo

In the age of technological change, we must make decisions faster and faster: but what are the risks?

A team of researchers at the University of Zurich identified a network of neuronal connections related to the absence of responsibility aversion. Through this research, published in Science journal, scholars have therefore shown that the ability to make decisions is a quality that only a few individuals have and is one of the traits most related to leadership skills.

Living in the era of continuous change, multitasking, speed as a constant, imposes the need to adapt the lenses with which we look at reality, not to risk being too slow or too quick to make crucial decisions.

Quick decisions. The infinite availability of information for everyone and in real time pushes us, in fact, to make quick decisions, with the vague feeling of being always lagging behind a pace that is not ours. The rhythm of a “click” or a “scroll”, but also the rhythm of our thoughts and images that flow before our eyes. The rhythm of closing a window and opening another, on another world.

This same infinite availability and accessibility to total information, however, opens scenarios of approximation, non-verifiability, excessive simplification that can make erroneous or incomplete decisions.

Too slow or too fast, in short? As always, the most reasonable hypothesis of response comes from common sense and being alert, curious and willing to change your mind and road learning from reality.

It’s like doing a periodic review of glasses or contact lenses: in the same way, we can adjust the way we look at things and people in a VUCA context, an English acronym of volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

The review of the lenses of our mind allows us not to reproduce patterns of the past or shortcuts related to habit or anxiety from “digital performance” in the way we evaluate others, make decisions, choose with whom we align ourselves to achieve our goals.

It is what is often associated with the concept of “unconscious bias” or “unconscious prejudices”.

A primordial concept linked to the evolution of the species, to preserve oneself from enemies and threats to the prevailing of the stronger on the weaker.

In fact, the neural reaction to the danger or even to the “unknown” has always been instinctive (blocked, escapes, attacks – freeze, flight or fight).

Only later does the brain part of the neo-cortex come into play, if called into question. It is at this point, thanks to the new cortex, that our brain constructs more complex scenarios, checks for alternatives, introduces different hypotheses from the first reaction.

Therefore, unconscious prejudices are the result of instinctive and not complex associations.

To study these phenomena is the Neuroscience leadership institute, which also highlighted some examples of bias:

  • “Similarity bias”: who looks more like me is “better”. We feel instinctively more at ease when we are with people aligned with our way of seeing, thinking, living, and for this we love to surround ourselves with others. However, innovation and performance are much greater in the non-homogeneous and varied groups in terms of background, personality, gender and culture. This is grounded in all the latest neuroscience studies: inhomogeneous and inclusive teams show more creativity, problem-solving, error detection and innovation. The “similarity bias” if not identified and managed, can make us lose opportunities to grow as individuals, groups and organizations.
  • “Experience bias”: if we are very competent or experienced (or simply creatures of habits) in a certain field and we have always done things in a certain way, the first tendency towards a problem is to recover a behavior or a strategy that worked in the past. But today the speed of change means that what has worked in the past does not always work in the present and in the future. Challenging the “experience bias”, or “we have always done so” opens up endless possibilities. We think of small decisions like changing the usual way to go to work (and discovering new places that we would have lost), changing the people I go to for lunch at the office (and maybe talking to a newly arrived colleague) can become a simple but powerful learning opportunity.
  • Changing the linear and incremental way of looking at problems, can make us make more complete and respectful decisions of all factors, especially in times like the current one in which the technological and context jumps are exponential. The so-called “expedience bias” makes us prefer the answer closest to our hypotheses or what resonates with what we know. In the age of discontinuity, this represents a point of attention.

More possibilities = more decisions. It is clear, therefore, that we are entering a world, dominated by technology, which will multiply the possibilities for all of us, making, on the one hand, more complicated and on the other fundamental to refine the quality of our choices as human beings.

The way of working, innovating, progressing has been transformed to adapt to the context, using tools such as agility, prototyping, design thinking. All these tools and the languages associated with it, presuppose an ability to think for micro-scenarios to be verified quickly so that they can then be reviewed or discarded.

It takes about 6 seconds for the amygdala to release its hormones and the effect of the initial trigger or stimulus vanishes so that the new cortex can come into action, giving its most “evolved” contribution.

Six seconds that can make the difference in our decisions, but above all, six seconds in which we activate one of the human possibilities par excellence: the possibility of choice.

Alessandra De Carlo
Alessandra De Carlo

Alessandra De Carlo deals with coaching and development of leadership and talent of individuals and teams within national and multinational companies, profit and non-profit organizations, in Italy and abroad.

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