Why Your Boss Ignores Your Data
Recently I did a session on peer-to-peer fundraising at the DoGoodData conference in Chicago with Otis Fulton, Turnkey’s psychological expert. From that conference, we actually got the idea for a webinar on how to talk to your boss. As attendees talked, I kept hearing people saying things like, “Yeah, I could prove something all day long with data, but my boss will just ignore it.” We thought, “Heck, we understand what’s happening, because it is so closely related to the work we do every day at Turnkey."
Let’s start by talking about our brains. Ninety-eight percent of our ancestors lived on the African Savanna. Over the thousands of generations, certain biases were selected for.
Bias is not, by definition, always a bad thing. From an evolutionary standpoint, our biases serve a purpose. Our five senses constantly supply us with incredible amounts of information. It’s impossible for the human brain to process it all. So to make our lives easier, our brains are hardwired to take shortcuts when interpreting information. We’ve developed a bunch of rules that we tap into unconsciously that allow us to make instant decisions and judgments.
In essence, your brain works on the principle that it’s usually better to be safe than it is to be sorry. If you were to think back to the way humans lived on the savanna, it’s easy to see how this was useful. Unfortunately, when biases come into play in the modern world, they can cause us to make some bad decisions. “Better to be safe than sorry” makes people very resistant to change, and reluctant to take action.
When we are making judgments and decisions, we like to think that we are objective, logical and evaluating all the information that is available. The reality is, however, that our judgments and decisions often are riddled with errors, and a wide variety of biases influence them.
You can track these biases, and measure them. Psychologists call these systematic errors “cognitive biases.” More than 100 separate biases have been identified. They are unconscious, and we are totally unaware of them. They are hardwired into everyone.
What about your boss? Chances are pretty good that your boss thinks he or she is much less influenced by bias than he or she is. There’s a term for this: blind spot bias. Everyone is affected by blind spot bias—only one out of 661 adults says that he or she is more biased than the average person. Only 0.15 percent of people believe that they are more biased than average!
Research done at Carnegie Mellon University has shown three things:
- Most people have no idea how biased they actually are.
- Most people believe that everyone around them is more biased than they are.
- Blind spot bias is unrelated to intelligence or self-esteem.
This has a big effect on the quality of decision-making. People who think they are less biased than others are less accurate at evaluating their own abilities, and they listen less to others people’s advice.
The good news—if we understand these biases, we can “deploy some countermeasures” to mitigate their effects, and sometimes even use them to our advantage.
So, with Andrew Means at the Impact Lab, which hosted the DoGoodData conference, we put together a webinar in which Otis teaches how to pull some jiu jitsu with a few of the major biases that influence decision-making.
Your boss can’t change, and most bosses aren’t even aware why they sometimes make poor decisions. But since you are aware, you can impact their choices.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.