One of the topics suggested in a recent member survey was about 'using foresight to unpack existing biases'. So I gave it a go with this newsletter.
I did look up the definition of bias first:
the action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way, because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment (Cambridge dictionary)
bias implies an unreasoned and unfair distortion of judgment in favor of or against a person or thing (Merriam Webster dictionary)
a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned (Dictionary.com)
The quotes suggest that all biases are negative and, for the most part, are used unconsciously. Implicit bias, for example, has been a topic for human resource departments in recent years, and I found a definition while looking at some sites:
Unconscious biases are the automatic assumptions or stereotypes we have about certain groups of people outside of our conscious awareness that influence our attitudes and behavior. Unconscious bias, often referred to as implicit bias, is pervasive and often does not align with our expressed or declared beliefs. University of South Caroline HR Department
Then I found another page which suggested that biases and assumptions are different - or maybe not: How to deal with assumptions and biases in a post-truth world. This article suggested that biases are built into our brain because they act unconsciously, but so do our assumptions - unless they are articulated in some way.
Assumptions and Worldviews
I'm going to move away from biases specifically now because I view them as a type of assumption. I define an assumption as an assertion we make about something we believe to true, with or without proof - it is an unconscious assertion which we acceptas true and right. It is a taken-for-granted view of reality and it can be be positive or negative in nature.
How can we find and articulate our assumptions then? I came across a a couple of philosophical papers by Clement Vidal* in my PhD research - which are based on the big questions philosophy - which together made sense to me in terms of helping us begin to sense why we think like we do and from where our assumptions emerge. Vidal suggested six questions which are the essential components of our worldviews - which shape our assumptions:
1. What is real? (Ontology)
2. Where did we come from? (History)
3. Where are we going? (Futures)
4. What is good and what is evil? (Axiology)
5. How should we act? (Praxeology)
6. What is true and what is false? (Epistemology)
I'm not going to go into detail here about these questions. You can read his papers (links below) and/or read more about these questions as I adapted them to apply to our futures here: Worldviews Part 2: FuturesWorldview Questions. For me, answers to these questions seem to allow us a window into our thinking and assumptions, both in general and about our futures. The answers together construct our unconscious worldviews and the assumptions we use every day. This is not to suggest that our assumptions are fixed and immutable - rather it means that our assumptions, once found, are open to change.
There could be other questions too, but these six open up a conversation with ourselves. And this is how I am using them in my conversations framework - as questions to ask ourselves in a futures context. I really don't think that we can begin to use our foresight capacities to surface biases and assumptions in foresight processes until we have found and articulated our own, and know how we use them in different contexts.
Assumptions and Foresight
In my conversations framework, this is the first conversation to be had - with the self. It provides the foundation for further conversations about culture, change and organisations. The aim of the framework is to integrate all four conversations into the design of foresight processes to enable assumptions to be articulated and for minds to open up to the new, the novel, the previously rejected. To accept that our assumptions may no longer be valid is a difficult but necessary process in foresight work since it is only when our assumptions are articulated - when our individual conversations about selves become collective - that we can allow ourselves to move into the realm of the unknown and uncertain. Foresight capacities then begin to emerge over time as participation in more conversations and processes increases - and assumptions begin to be challenged, reframed and/or discarded as our thinking expands and deepens - an expansion of our ontological spaces occurs.
Finally, I can recall the day when I realised I was using was making conscious use of my assumptions, when I knew I was responding to something in a new way, I knew I was seeing the world in different way - more open, less judgemental, more curious and more tolerant ways. From then on, I could recognise when my assumptions - which were still there - were in use, and I could stop myself from using them because now I was aware of them. I still hold some assumptions from that time, but I know I have also discarded many. Once you have found your assumptions, you will be thinking differently about both the present and our futures.
*You can download Clement Vidal's two papers:
1. What is a Worldview?
2. An Enduring Philosophical Agenda. Worldview Construction as a Philosophical Method