On Unconscious Biases

A Cognitive Approach to Reducing the Influences of Unconscious Biases
(and much more).

The topic of unconscious biases, their influence, and how to address them has been circulating the HR / learning and development field for quite a while now.  The conversation tends to focus primarily on “social biases” – diversity, equality, racism, and prejudice – biases about other people. The 2017 “Starbucks incident” in Philadelphia that resulted in the company closing the doors of over 8000 stores in US and Canada for an entire day of “anti-bias training” brought the issue to a whole new level.

At Axiogenics, we are experts in the field of applied neuro-axiology. Neuro-axiology is the fusion of mind-brain-behavioral sciences (cognition, emotions, motivations, habits, decision-making, brain change, and learning) and formal axiology – the science of value/goodness, how we make value judgments and decisions, and how those value judgments translate into behavior and performance. It’s the science of measuring and maximizing the quality of people’s thinking as a means to maximizing value generation, performance, and quality of life.

This whitepaper is not about the problems that unconscious biases can cause nor the obvious need for training on the topic. It’s about our cutting-edge, science-based approach to L&D that not only reduces or eliminates problems associated with unconscious social biases but that helps eradicate all forms of cognitive biases that cause cultural toxicity, increased stress and conflict, underperformance, and lost potential at both the individual and organizational levels. 

Our approach does require a bit of a “tweak” to the behavior-based paradigm of mainstream L&D. But by integrating Cognitive Self-Leadership and our cognitive remodeling approach into L&D, organizations will realize a much greater ROI from ALL their learning and development efforts from onboarding to anti-bias training to talent and leadership development.

Hopefully, in this white paper and within the context of “unconscious biases,” we’ll be able to make our case for going outside the box of mainstream L&D “best practices” without triggering any conscious or unconscious biases you, the reader, may have for staying in that box. 😊

All of Life is a Value Proposition.

One of the basic tenets of the science of neuro-axiology is that everything in life – all human endeavor –  is fundamentally about preserving and creating value so we can protect and improve quality of life in some way. To think is to e-value-ate things, circumstances, information, possibilities, and options to determine what choices we can/should/must make, and the actions we can/should/must take to achieve the desired outcome.

Some 250 years ago, Ben Franklin wrote, “I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.”

Biases, forged by one’s life experiences, are simply elements within a person’s “model” of life and the world – the value structure upon which they e-value-ate make decisions – including “unconscious” decisions.  Biases are learned preconceptions of what the person thinks or believes can or will threaten, protect, maintain, or enhance quality of life. They manifest themselves as habits – predictable patterns of conscious and subconscious meaning-making, feeling, evaluating, judging, deciding, being, responding and reacting.

Habits tend to be rather sticky. That’s a good thing when the habit is a good habit. But not so good when it comes to mental habits that get in the way of positive progress and results. Changing or eliminating a bias or a habit requires a lasting change in the person’s underlying value structure. Unfortunately, mainstream behavioral L&D approaches are not very effective at creating significant and lasting changes in how people think. Just increasing people’s awareness about their biases is not enough. Making them feel they are wrong for having biases, is hypocritical and ineffective at best. Teaching people what and how they should think, feel, or act doesn’t work for very long either, if at all.

Most unconscious bias training and development misses the mark because:

The “cure” for unconscious biases has nothing to do with “fixing” the biases themselves and everything to do with transcending them.

Cognitive Biases

In neuro-axiological science we define a cognitive bias as ANY habitual way of thinking that causes a person to place either too much or too little value on something or on some aspect of something (or someone). It’s a way of thinking that results in ‘false estimates of the value of things (e-value-ations).’ These “false estimates” can be both caused by and the causes of our preconceptions, attitudes, beliefs, meaning-making, and assumptions about almost anything – including things like the color of a person’s skin or the sound of their name.

An Axiogenics VQ Profile® assessment is a scientifically-validated process that quickly and objectively measures how and how well a person thinks from each of 36 different axiological perspectives (each perspective being a distinct way of thinking). A VQ Profile reveals ALL of a person’s cognitive biases. It is NOT a personality or behavioral assessment.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin again, ‘virtually all of a person’s mistakes and miseries are brought upon them by the false value judgements and misleading influences of their cognitive biases.’

Having diagnosed the thinking of over 25,000 people, we estimate that cognitive biases dominate, control, or influence 85% – 95% of a person’s decisions, actions, reactions, and even their emotions.

A cognitive bias is like a brand-new credit card with a zero balance and a high credit limit. So long as it stays in your wallet, it’s relatively harmless. Under certain circumstances, wisely using the credit card may even be helpful in achieving an important and worthy goal. However, if having all that credit available “burns a hole in your pocket” and “causes” you to make poor buying decisions, it can become a serious liability that could ultimately lead you to bankruptcy. 

A cognitive bias becomes a cognitive liability when we allow it to influence our choices and actions in such a way and to such an extent that it diminishes the quality of our decisions and actions, thus undermining our performance, happiness, relationships, and/or quality of life.

The fact that a person has cognitive biases and liabilities is not the real problem.

The real problem is that people are not very adept at engaging the wisdom of their cognitive assets and, as a result, remain susceptible to sabotaging influence of their cognitive biases and liabilities.

In addition to identifying cognitive biases, a VQ Profile® identifies a person’s cognitive assets – their best, most unbiased, clear, and capable ways of thinking – ways of thinking that will always produce better, more value-generative results. When a person engages their cognitive assets, their cognitive biases and liabilities become irrelevant and powerless.

The key questions we began exploring some 10 years ago were:

  • Can we teach people how to maximize their cognitive assets and minimize their cognitive liabilities?
  • Can we find a way to engage people’s natural motivations, so they want to learn how to think better?
  • Would such an approach deliver breakthrough results and ROI for people and organizations?
  • If we could accomplish all of the above, can we measure the results?
  • Can we do all this is a cost-effective, easy-to-implement way?

After years of research and development the answer to all the questions above is a resounding “YES!

That is what makes applied neuro-axiology, and more specifically, the pedagogy of Neuro-axiological Cognitive Remodeling Technology (“NCRT”) and the skills of Cognitive Self-Leadership, true game-changers.

NCRT and Cognitive Self-Leadership

NCRT is a pedagogy – a training/learning methodology that:

  1. Engages people’s natural desires and aspirations in such a way as to create a clear sense of purpose, inspire commitment, and elicit a valuegenic growth mindset.
  2. Develops heightened levels of objective and meaningful self-knowledge, awareness, mindfulness, and social and emotional intelligence.
  3. Enables people to learn, master, and perpetually apply the skills of Cognitive Self-Leadership:

“The purposeful practice of transcending the habits, influences, limits, and liabilities of one’s cognitive biases by engaging one’s BEST ways of thinking (cognitive assets) in any and all circumstances that matter.”

Cognitive Self-Leadership is NOT about fixing people’s biases or weaknesses. It’s about teaching people how to use the greater wisdom of their cognitive assets to make better choices and decisions rather than allowing self-sabotaging, value-reducing, performance-killing, quality-of-life-diminishing biased thought processes to dominate and control them. The learning process is designed to quickly produce breakthrough results and experiences related to high-value, self-determined goals and aspirations that naturally give rise to positive and measurable shifts in how the person thinks and e-value-ates – even at the subconscious level.

NCRT and the skills of Cognitive Self-Leadership do far more than reduce the impact of unconscious social biases.

Cognitive Self-Leadership (engaging one’s best thinking) is also a foundational skill for the effective development and practice of virtually all other “soft skills” and many other “hard skills.”

When Cognitive Self-Leadership is adopted as a mission-critical value and core competency for ALL employees, it transforms entire organizations and their cultures. As a pedagogy, NCRT is easily integrated into other learning and development programs to enhance and accelerate their effectiveness and ROI as well.

Together, Cognitive Self-Leadership and NCRT provide a foundational set of tools, principles, practices, and skills that bring cohesiveness, continuity, and synergy to ALL the people pieces of the OD puzzle.

What Next?

Clearly, there is much more you can learn about what we do, the difference it makes, and how we do it. We offer several different ways to engage and integrate our methods into your organization.

What matters most right now is this:

If “unconscious biases” are an important issue for your organization, …

If significantly improving the value, effectiveness, and ROI of L&D is a high priority, …

If a sustainable, high-quality culture that can attract, develop, unleash, and retain high-caliber millennial talent would give your organization a competitive edge, …

If you’re a leader who knows that putting people first is a key to organizational success, …

If you are willing to innovate (by current mainstream standards), but want the confidence of knowing that the innovation is science-based and real-world tested, …

… then don’t let a bias against what’s new and different and/or a bias for the safety of mainstream theories and “best practices” cloud your judgment and keep you from learning more.

Let’s talk soon!

The Central Question
of Life, Love, and Leadership:

“What choice can I make and action can I take, in this moment, to create the greatest net value?”

A simple question that’s transforming lives and organizations!


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~ Stephen R. Covey

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