Celebrate Diversity and Autism Awareness Month by Reframing a Data-Informed Decision

What allowed humans to survive and evolve over time, is now holding us back in our evolution.

My interest in psychology started when I had my first son 15 years ago. He was diagnosed with autism at an early age. While I had read as much as I could about autism, I was unknowingly embarking on a lifelong lesson about perspective, bias, systems thinking, and a lifelong journey trying to understand why people think in the way that they do. I ended up reading about psychology to help me try to understand more about my son, and how I can better support and advocate for him.

What I did not realize was that this ended up having a material impact on my abilities at work. The question of ‘why’ became more important than the question of ‘what’. The organization started to look more like an inter-connected system rather than only vertical silos. Every performance problem did not appear to be a result of the individual or their lack of knowledge. Most importantly, decisions started to include other perspectives. I started to see how all this positively impacts organizational culture, diversity and inclusion, and how it increased innovation.

With this month being both Diversity and Autism Awareness month, I wanted to share my thoughts on importance of exploring a variety of perspectives, becoming aware of any implicit bias that exists, and embracing diversity at both a personal and a professional level.

Decision making can be a complex process, which requires a lot of information to be processed simultaneously; making it a very complicated computational task for the brain. Studies show that there can be up to 11 million pieces of information thrown at the brain per second. But the brain’s conscious level can only process about 40 pieces of information per second. To solve these problems, we rely on simplifying heuristics, or intuition, rather than logical reasoning. This has helped humans make decisions quickly and helped humans survive and evolve in the primitive days. The risk of this is that at times irrelevant, contextual information leads to making inconsistent, illogical, and implicitly biased choices. This risk is now magnified since we are in the age of digital transformation with constant change and technological advancements. We are still fighting for survival, but now survival from ourselves and our own destruction. Decisions leveraging data are now more important than ever.

What I have learned from my observations with my son is that he tends to be more consistent with his choices. He is less swayed by his emotion and his intuition. While this may be seen as beneficial in some situations, it can also be a huge detriment. We rely on intuition as part of our decision-making process to think outside the box. The idea is to strive to be aware of both your analytical reasoning and your intuition, and also seek out other perspectives.

So, what does this have to do with data, decision making, and diversity? One of the best ways I have learned to support my son is to reframe a situation. Reframing is seeing the current situation from a different perspective. Sometimes it is me trying to help my son reframe his perspectives. But often, it is me reframing my perspective to focus on my son from his perspective. How does he see things? Why does he see it this way? It is a very enlightening process, and one that I now apply daily at work.

When making data-informed decisions, it is critical to look at the information from multiple perspectives. This is easier done within a group of diverse colleagues. It allows you to easily reframe by listening to other perspectives. To one person, the answer may be to stop delivering a product in a specific segment. Another person with a different set of experiences and personality will most likely have a different perspective that will help you make a better data-informed decision. The key being that the group is not just demographically diverse but also cognitively diverse.

Below is an example of a picture that will capture different perspectives depending on the person. Do you see the young lady or the old lady?

We are still learning about the human brain, and we are still evolving as a society to be conscious of our implicit and unconscious bias. Current events have taught us that this is still a topic that is not getting enough emphasis and awareness. Hopefully by the time diversity awareness month hits us in 2020, we will see signs of change: less stories of kids in their formidable years being teased or alienated for being “different” and less stories about racial profiling. From a business perspective, I hope to see companies move the needle with innovation by leveraging a diverse group and embracing different perspectives when making data-informed decisions.

To celebrate diversity month, please try the following at least once this month. When making any decisions, be it in work or life, take a moment and reframe the decision. Ideally ask someone who has a completely different background and experiences as you for their perspective. If that is not possible, step back and reframe the decision yourself from another perspective. I promise you it will be enlightening and empowering. For me, it led me on this journey which includes thoughts about not only right versus wrong, but also what it means to be good and successful in life.

Perceptions create our reality but our Kevin Hanegan explains the power of perspective


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