In a recent article on The Conversation, professor Sam Hunter and Gina Scott Ligon, the Director of The National Counter Terrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education (NCITE) Center at the University of Nebraska Omaha discuss the idea of originality bias and how it can make us less safe. Originality Bias doesn’t only expose us to risk, it also prevents us from seeing new opportunities.
Examples of Originality Bias
Shortly after 9/11 a terrorist attempted to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb. Ever since then, we’ve all been taking our shoes off when we fly. Before Richard Reid (the shoe bomber) very few people considered the possibility of that kind of attack. Now, we look for those attacks before every flight.
You’re probably ready for another pandemic. You know how to work remotely. Maybe you even know how to make your own hand sanitizer and masks. But what if the next threat is new? What if the next threat is an electricity outage that lasts for days? Or, what if the next threat is a disgruntled employee who sabotages your website or social media account?
You can also see the bias in Hollywood movie franchises, the number of Broadway plays based on existing movies, and the explosion of television “reboots.“
Why We Have a Bias to the Familiar
Anyone who has tried to feed small children knows that a bias against new things is somewhat ingrained. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. We don’t actually want people running around trying every new mushroom or berry that they find. But our avoidance of the new goes beyond necessity.
Even when bored, people often don’t pursue new ideas. Why don’t we like the new?
- We can’t assess new ideas based on experience.
- It takes more brain power to think about new ideas than existing ideas.
- New ideas threaten the status quo.
- It can be embarrassing to discuss new ideas, especially if you haven’t fully formed your thesis.
- Addressing new ideas requires creativity and we don’t always have the time or freedom to be creative.
How Can We Overcome Originality Bias
Many of the elements that contribute to overcoming originality bias contribute to a strong team environment in general.
- A focus on psychological safety so that people are comfortable bringing up new ideas.
- A diverse staff that brings a wealth of experiences.
- Paid time off, sabbaticals, and other breaks designed to help people recharge and see things in a new way.
- Encouraging experimentation and mistakes.
- A strong strategic plan that gives people direction for new ideas.
Originality bias is a defensive stance that might not serve your organization well. Being aware of this bias and taking steps to overcome it in order to protect your organization from threats and prepare it for opportunities may make the difference in your ability to thrive.