Why Doesn't the Business World Operate Like the Navy SEAL Team?

Why Doesn't the Business World Operate Like the Navy SEAL Team?
Image credit: DVIDSHUB via Flickr

In the wake of leaving the bubble known as the Navy SEAL Teams in 2014 after spending 13 glorious years thinking that everything we did was normal, I found myself in a completely new world. Things weren’t quite as clear in the business world. It didn’t make sense to me, for instance, why people worried about things out of their control, why having difficult conversations was just as comfortable for some people as showing up to work naked, or -- and this is my favorite -- how people somehow became too busy to exercise every day.

Needless to say, how I saw the world was completely different from how others saw it -- not good or bad, just different. The point is, the conclusions I made were drawn from my previous experiences not to mention the values, world views and personal biases associated with them.

Related: Entrepreneurs Should Watch Out for Cognitive Biases and the Curse of Knowledge

Decision-making is something that rests upon the shoulders of everybody. In fact, the average adult makes roughly 35,000 decisions a day. Just the simple act of going through a decision-making process is enough to garner unwanted stress and give birth to unwanted gray hairs that never go away. However, the conclusions we derive are only as good as two critical factors supporting them -- the information being sourced and the self-awareness of the decision maker. Here’s what I mean.

The information we use to make decisions must be accurate -- this much is obvious. Have you ever tied to navigate the streets of New York with a map of Los Angeles? It’s not easy. The point is, nobody arrives at the right conclusion using the wrong data.

Additionally, self-awareness is critical to making accurate and timely decisions because, while the conclusions we draw are one thing, how we interpret the data that goes into those conclusions is something else. Our interpretation stems from many things such as family upbringing, personal values and the willingness to recognize and challenge our own cognitive biases.

The good news about self-awareness is that -- like information -- its accuracy can be improved, but doing so isn’t easy. Start with these four cognitive biases to build your awareness, so you can maximize the impact of your decisions.

Related: 3 Keys to Becoming a More Decisive Leader

1. Mirroring

This is the, “Well, I like eggs with peanut butter so everybody probably likes eggs with peanut butter” way of thinking (and if you’ve never tried eggs and peanut butter, I highly recommend it). Mirroring is when we assume that our beliefs and behaviors are normal -- so others must think and act similarly. If this were true, then running around with a boat on your head for five days would make sense, but it doesn’t -- unless you’re aspiring to become a SEAL.

2. Paradox of expertise

This bias is potent, because it prevents us from questioning better methods. The paradox of expertise is the belief that, “I am a subject matter expert in X, so what else is there to learn?” or, “How we’ve been doing things has always worked, so why change?” It’s dangerous, because it assumes competence and foregoes curiosity, which is a direct route to complacency.

3. Confirmation bias

Have you ever read a self-improvement or leadership book and said to yourself, “Oh yeah, I already knew that.”? That’s confirmation bias -- interpreting new information as validation of pre-existing beliefs. In other words, we tend to cite information or events that support our world views while ignoring those that don’t.

Want to know the biggest source of confirmation bias? The Internet. You can find any answer you’re looking for on the Internet. However, if you want accuracy, that’s another story.

4. Positive-thinking bias

Planning for the worst while hoping for the best is one thing, but expecting luck to change after a long streak of bad can be a hard lesson in probability. Think of luck and reality as two opposites -- like sales and marketing. They don’t work well together, and they don’t communicate. Luck doesn’t tell reality when it’s going to show up -- it just does -- and reality is taken by surprise. The takeaway here is not to expect luck to intervene simply because change is due. Because it won’t. That’s reality.

Cognitive biases are the quiet culprits of poor decisions. Know what they are -- and you’re already halfway to maximizing your impact as a decision-maker. 

Related: How Being Mindful Can Help You Make Better Decisions