November 9, 2017


We are biased. About everything. And we know it.
Bias has been much in the news, mostly in reference to the media. And it’s also bandied about in reference to the echo chambers and bubbles of social media.
But bias is everywhere, including in business decisions. To put it plainly, you may make bad decisions because you believe things that aren’t true.
So how can we manage our own biases? We have a few rules of the road we use for making decisions:
  1. We test as much as we can. Testing is what we do at Spark, so this one seems easy. But it is possible to construct a test with inherent bias, so we need some other rules.
  2. We are explicit about assumptions. Like, we write them down. Then we read carefully: can we find where we’re biased? Which biases are important and which don’t matter?
  3. Most importantly, when we can, we run our assumptions by someone with different biases than ours. Painful, yes, but productive.
  4. Finally, we strive for transparency. Where it’s possible that bias—ours or others’—may cloud a conclusion, we call it out.

Calling Kellyanne

Not only are we biased, but we are also embarrassingly easy to manipulate. Even worse, we are often fooling ourselves—sometimes to the detriment of health, safety, and progress. This New Yorker review of three different books, by a collection of cognitive scientists and others, may make you cringe, but it also lets you blame your “myside bias” on evolution. Don’t miss the part about toilets.

When Facts Fail

Ever find yourself in a heated political debate on Facebook? Or worse, around the table at Thanksgiving? Have you noticed that the facts can make matters worse?
Fortunately, help is at hand. This cheat sheet for conversation etiquette will prepare you for even the thorniest of battles (Tactic #2: discuss, don’t attack).Study up: turkey day is just around the corner.

Bias Busting

“Are you smarter than a fifth grader?” Professor and author Daniel Klein published a sharply titled Wall Street Journal op-ed back in 2010, arguing that the American left was ignorant about economic matters. One year later, however, Klein retracted his conclusions and released a new article. The culprit: “myside bias.” It’s safe to say we’ve all been quick to judge statements based on how conveniently the “facts” fit into what we know. And this is why we’ve got to hand it to Klein for adjusting his bias, when so few can say they’ve done the same.

Pillory Parable

What happens when an entire community has to grapple with its own biases?
This New York Times Magazine cover story is ostensibly about making Amy Cuddy, of TED fame, a sort of poster child for the dangers of subjectivity in social science. But the way she was called out—with condescension and a lack of civility—also makes the story a parable about how to engage and effect change without being destructive.

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