If you are, do you know it? Professor Erika James led the Darden Corporate Advisory Board through an exercise this week to help us identify our bias, or blind spots. She flashed a sentence on the board for eight seconds and asked us to count the appearances of the letter “f.” Sounds simple, right? A quick poll revealed 90% of attendees counted five or fewer. She repeated the exercise, giving us a whopping nine seconds. Still, 90% counted five or fewer. Let me make up a sentence to illustrate:
“Five of the best fishermen went flying off the dock because of the wave of water that came from the East.”
As you can clearly see, there are nine “f” letters in the sentence. Professor James revealed that her research shows that nearly everyone who does a similar exercise as this exercise misses the “f” in the word “of,” all three times.
So I ask again: are you an “of”? Small and insignificant? Not normal (note the “f” in “of” is pronounced as a soft “v”)? Hidden among other important people?
Actually, perhaps the more important question is not whether you are an “of,” but is: did (do) you miss the “of”s? And what are your “biases” that perhaps led (lead) you to miss the “of” in your team, company, or society? We all have biases, which are neither good nor bad. What’s important is that we have become aware of and recognize them, so that we can build process to overcome them.
Let me give a personal story: I am in the process of hiring a person for an open position. I would describe myself as action orientated, results focused, perhaps loud and decisive. I appreciate organization, leadership, initiative and punctuality. These are my biases. It’s sometimes easy for me to ignore the facts and react to my first impression. So, I have learned that I must interview my top 2 or 3 candidates more than once. And, during the second interview, I have an interview guide, full of behavioral questions. And I write down the candidate’s answers, so that I can review the three candidates’ answers together and really see whose experience is most relevant.
Don’t get me wrong: I am a strong believer in those first seven seconds of interaction. But now, given my biases, I try to go beyond those first seven seconds with the leading candidates. (Interviews are tomorrow. Forewarned is forearmed.)
I’m committed to not missing the “of”s in my world.
P.S. To learn more about your biases, go to www.implicit.harvard.edu