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.
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.