I am in the sticky middle of a project. The project goal is to marry design thinking and unconscious bias research in a workshop that helps to reduce bias. Something struck me about the way people would react to the workshop when it was introduced to them. They would wince ever so slightly. I've come to call that reaction "The Cringe".
The Cringe is almost imperceptible, but people really do shut down when they encounter the words “bias”, “unbiasing” and, to a lesser degree, “inclusiveness” — especially here in Silicon Valley. There is a high volume of blame and shame being thrown around, and frustrations are rising around how to grow diversity and inclusiveness in some of the nation's most successful companies and organizations.
The key to moving through this rough territory is, I believe, translation. Part of the magic of combining the two areas -- unbiasing and design thinking -- is crafting a new language for talking about the very concept of bias itself. I think we’re on to that translation with our transition to addressing worldview.
Rather than ask "of whom are you more or less inclusive", we now ask, "whom do you see more or less clearly?”. Then, after we’ve guided participants through an exploration of that question, we show them that an ability to see people clearly or not is what contributes to bias. Then, they apply the design thinking process and collaborate with their partner to find a creative solution.
The workshop we have now is meant to help people sharpen the focus of the lens through which they see the world. We define that lens as their worldview, which is shaped by their life experience. It leads them to intervene to combat their biases and, ultimately, see others who are not like them more clearly.
People are weary and wary of un-biasing experiences, and they are excited and eager for design thinking. It appears that many who are in a position to make significant, positive changes upon becoming aware of how unconscious bias works, are shutting down and going into a mode of helplessness and shame avoidance once they catch a whiff of “bias” as a topic of discussion. They are, on the other hand, some of the very same people lighting up at the prospect of learning and applying “design thinking”.
Using the energy of one to power the other in a way that leaves everyone feeling as if they can actually do something is they key to this marriage. The path we are carving exists in three parts:
- Bring people together on a level playing field and show them a shared problem. (i.e. "We all have life experiences and a worldview shaped by those experiences. This can cause us to see some people more clearly than others. How might we sharpen the lens?")
- Give people the tools to creatively problem solve within this established context.
- Help them apply those tools to see the world differently and affect positive behavior change.
People need to be introduced to the experience as a workshop about bringing clarity to your life experience -- a universally shared trait. Then, in doing that, participants are able to open themselves up to learning that this is about identifying and counteracting your biases, which, like a life experience, all of us have.
We're still testing this workshop, and it is far from perfect. But the way forward is becoming more clear as we continue iterating and testing.