A snowball on the tip of an iceberg

How many pieces of information is your brain receiving right now?

100? 1,000? 10,000?

Not even close.  Psychologists believe that at any given time, our brains are receiving around 11 million pieces of information. Sounds exhausting, right?

In fact, although we are constantly being inundated with information, the ‘conscious’ part of our brains can only process about 40 bits of information at a time. Or 0.000004%.  That sounds a bit more manageable. But what happens to the rest?

Our brain uses probability to ‘fill in the gaps’.  Without consciously thinking about it, our brain automatically sorts, filters and categorises information, enabling us to make quick decisions about people and situations, based on what we have seen, heard and experienced previously (whether consciously or unconsciously).

When our brain correctly fills in the gap, these biases are further reinforced (and we are far more likely to remember when we have been right about something, than when we have been wrong!)

 ‘Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see.’

Whilst most of us would agree that it’s a good thing that we don’t have to consciously process millions of pieces of information every moment of every day, the fact that so much of this is done ‘unconsciously’ means that the decisions we make can often be subjective, rather than objective. Clearly, this can have a negative impact, both inside and outside of the workplace, from everyday interactions, to recruiting new members of staff, to successfully delivering projects.

Management Consultants must rapidly, and accurately, assess an individual’s skills, capabilities and potential, in order to successfully build project teams and make robust recommendations to clients. We must assess who is ‘right’ for different positions, evaluating who displays the desired behaviours and competencies for different roles, who will come on a journey during the lifetime of a project, and who will fail to make the grade. “Would this Supervisor be capable of driving the performance of their team?” “What ‘type’ of person would thrive in this role?” “Is this Consultant a good ‘fit’ for this project team?” Whilst, where possible, decisions should be driven and validated by data, past experience and intuition will inevitably play a substantial role in decision-making.

Yet, if we are naturally ‘hard-wired’ towards certain judgements and outcomes, how can we ensure that we are making the best decisions for our projects and for our clients?

Firstly, we must accept that the question to pose ourselves is not, “Am I biased?”, but “What are my biases?” Once we have accepted this, we have a responsibility to try to identify our own unique ‘hard-wiring’ and better understand what lies beneath the ‘snowball’, in our unconsciousness. Only then can we start to challenge our thought processes and the choices we make, as well as those we see being made by the people around us. With heightened awareness, and a greater propensity to talk openly about our biases, we can challenge ourselves to increase the objectiveness of our decision-making, and help ensure we are delivering optimal results for our clients.