Living in an echo chamber

A lot of us live in an echo chamber, we associate and make friends with like minded people often from similar backgrounds and cultures. I am a keen cyclist a lot of my friends are also cyclists, guess what we do when we go out cycling, yes we talk about cycling and bikes. We reinforce each others views that it is a good pastime and that more people should consider doing it. Now I am aware that some of you think I am mad, why would you want to cycle on our busy roads, holding up the traffic and dressing in lycra which according to my kids is not a good look! There is nothing wrong with these echo chambers, as they provide a safe and comfortable environment to socialise and relax in. However, we do need to recognise that they are just that an echo chamber for our views and opinions about the world and lead us to having unconscious bias about people, situations and different scenarios.

There is a well known story about a journalist who travelled out to the House of Binns to visit Tam Dalyell, the late labour MP for Linlithgow and the gentleman known for the ‘West Lothian question’. When the journalist entered Tam’s office he noticed a copy of the Daily Telegraph lying on Tam’s desk and made a comment that was not what he expected to see on a Labour MP’s desk. Tam answered in his usual well thought out way, ‘Well sir, I know my own views very well, I know the views of my party reasonably well, but what I truly need to understand are the views of the opposition’. He was trying to breakout of his daily echo chamber and gain a wider perspective.

At work, who do you associate with, who do you trust to do important pieces of work, who do you confide in? Are you working and trusting in an echo chamber, are the people you trust just likely to reinforce your views of the world or broaden your horizons, are you seeking to understand the bigger picture? The big impact here is on our unconscious bias where we rely on labels, stereotypes, past experiences and cultural influences to make quick judgements about people and situations. Our unconscious mind has some advantages and disadvantages. It’s main advantage is that it allows us to multi task and achieve much more in any one day than our conscious mind could ever do and to quickly process information and inputs received by our brains. The key disadvantage is that it leads us to make assumptions about situations and people and take action based on our bias. It is natural, everyone has some unconscious bias but it can affect decision making and limit our thinking. Remember there is a clear link between what you achieve in life, in and outside work and the diversity of possibilities you consider. The greater the diversity of the people you trust and respect the greater your thinking, your decision making and what you will achieve. So now and again break out the echo chamber, go to the ‘dark side’, get uncomfortable and ask more questions and give less opinions.

‘A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world’, Doug Oberhelman CEO of Caterpillar.