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The HERO Skills Challenge: Breaking Bad Bias - Insider Bias

It’s a sun-bathed morning on the golf course. There I am, stationed at the perfect vantage point on the first tee, Canon camera in hand, my heart swelling with pride. Today isn't just any day; it's the day my son Zach is competing in the final stage of PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry. He endured three weekends, twelve rounds of golf to get to this point, obtaining his Korn Ferry Tour card fresh out of college. Some had been trying more than 10 years to make it this far.


Through my viewfinder, Zach isn't just a golfer; he's the embodiment of years of early mornings, countless hours of practice, and gritty resilience. And my Canon? It's more than a camera; it's a witness to family history. It recorded my oldest son, Nicholas, crossing the finish line to become a high school state championship in the 300 M hurdles. It’s seen another son, Jacob, in the Canadian wilderness hauling in walleye after walleye, pike after pike on summer fishing trips. This camera was there to document my daughter, Natalie, with her first kick of a soccer ball to performing on stage in a high school musical. In a sense, the camera is an extension of me as a proud parent and a Canon loyalist.


As Zach tees off, the silence is palpable, broken only by the crisp sound of the driver making contact. It's poetry in motion, each frame I capture a stanza in a larger epic. As Zach navigated the course, his focus unyielding, my camera captured his quest to qualify for PGA Tour. Like my son’s prowess on the course, there’s something special about a Canon camera. It captures light, the vibrant greens of the course, and the concentration in Zach's expressions in a way that always felt right to me. I'm so engrossed in the process, so entrenched in my role as both the ultimate supporter and the unofficial photographer, that I barely notice the parent beside me, Nikon in hand, capturing the similar moments of his son from a slightly different angle.


The conversation starts innocently enough. Compliments on each son’s form leads to discussions about our respective cameras. It's Canon vs. Nikon, the classic debate, but this time it's personal. My allegiance to Canon is unwavering, born not just from brand loyalty but from the countless milestones it's documented, each photo a testament to Zach's journey from a little five-year-old who could barely swing a club to a professional golfer who can hit 300+ yard drives.


After the round, the other dad and I gathered to share our pictures The contrast between our photographs was stark. The Nikon photos, though technically proficient, lacked the soul I saw in my Canon shots. Where I captured the warmth of the sun glinting off Zach's club, the Nikon images seemed too cool, too detached. Where my photos seemed to sing with the vibrant hues of the fairways and the sky, his felt subdued.


It wasn't just about the equipment; it was about what those images represented. My Canon shots were more than photographs; they were extensions of my experience, my emotions, and my connection to Zach. The Nikon images, while perhaps appealing to others, simply couldn't evoke the same depth of feeling. They lacked the personal touch, the intangible quality that made each photo a part of our story.


This experience reinforced my belief in Canon's superiority, not just in its technical capabilities, but in its ability to capture the essence of the moment as I felt it. Something I doubt a Nikon camera could do as well. But as I look back, it was also a reminder that my choices in camera technology, much like in life, are deeply personal, influenced by our experiences, our biases, and our emotional connections. This was not just a reflection on camera technology but a vivid illustration, for me, of what is known as In-Group Bias, what I call Insider Bias — my unconscious preference for the familiar and meaningful over the unfamiliar, regardless of its merits.


As we delve into the nuances of insider bias, we'll explore how this cognitive bias colors our perceptions and preferences, shaping not only the technology we champion but also how we interpret the people and the world around us. This journey isn't about proving one brand, or one group is superior to another; it's about understanding why we hold certain biases and how they affect our beliefs, perspectives, and decisions.


What is Insider Bias?

Insider bias, or in-group bias, is a psychological tendency to favor what we know, trust, and love over what's new or different, even when there's little to no rational basis for the preference. This bias stretches across our choices and preferences, influencing everything from the brands we loyally follow to the people we instinctively trust.


  • Psychological Perspective: Insider bias is like rooting for your home team. It’s grounded in our need for belonging and identity. It feels natural to support what we know and love. It reassures us that our choices — from the cameras we use and the sports teams we cheer for, to the brands we endorse and the political parties we support — reinforce our sense of self and community but can limit our openness to new experiences.


  • Human Behavioral Science Perspective: Behavioral science tells us this bias reflects how we see ourselves and the groups we align ourselves with. It’s rooted in social identity — part of our self-concept based on our perceived membership in social groups. It's a survival mechanism, honing our instincts to trust those who share our values and views, fostering unity and cooperation within those circles. It also encourages group cohesion and loyalty but can also lead us to overlook or dismiss out-of-group perspectives and innovations.


  • Neuroscience Perspective: Neurologically, in-group bias lights up our brain's reward pathways. Our brains are wired to reward familiarity. When we interact with familiar “insiders” or favor our "in-group," it's like a hit of dopamine — our brain's way of saying, "This feels good, let's keep doing it." Recognizing and preferring our in-group triggers positive emotional responses, reinforcing the bias. However, this neural cheerleading for the familiar can skew our perceptions and decision-making, especially in the context of those we perceive as “outsiders.” Insider Bias can limit our openness to new experiences and inhibit critical thinking.


Insider Bias in Action

  • At the Workplace: Imagine you're leading a project team and need to choose a new member. Unknowingly, you lean towards candidates who share your alma mater or hobbies. It feels like a cultural fit, but is it the best skill fit? This bias results in a feeling of comfort but might sideline potentially more qualified individuals who could bring fresh ideas and perspectives.


  • At Home: Choosing a vacation destination, you might lean towards places your favorite news anchors and commentators talk about and recommend, overlooking new and possibly more enriching experiences offered by others. This preference for listening to those we deem “like us,” while not necessarily bad, can prevent us from hearing other, “outsider” voices and rob us of experiencing the joy discovery.


HERO Skills to the Rescue

Whether it’s my experience with Canon and Nikon cameras, or any other Insider vs. Outsider scenario, the HERO Skills: Humility, Empathy, Reflection, and Open-mindedness, can be helpful for overcoming insider bias.


  • Humility allows us to acknowledge our and our in-group’s limitations and biases. It can help us recognize and consider that our tribe might not always have the best answer or preference, and to, at least, listen to “outsider” points of view.


  • Empathy helps us understand and appreciate the perspectives and tastes of others, allowing us to see the value in others' preferences and perspectives, understanding that different doesn't mean inferior.


  • Reflection encourages us to mindfully consider why we feel a strong loyalty to certain groups or brands, considering whether this loyalty is based on habit and emotion or on evidence and critical thought. Thoughtful reflection can help us to think about why we have these biases and how they affect our decisions.


  • Open-mindedness is the willingness to explore new ideas, places, and people outside our familiar "in-group." It opens the door to new experiences, be it trying out a Nikon or Sony camera, exploring unknown places, or finding new friends. It fosters growth and learning.


Employing these skills can guide us to recognize and mitigate our insider bias, enriching our lives with diverse experiences and viewpoints.


The 19th Hole

Reflecting on the day at the golf course, camera in hand, watching Zach swing with the grace and determination that spoke of countless days on the course, I realized that my preference for Canon over Nikon was more than just about the quality of photos. It was a symbol of my insider bias, a lens through which I viewed not just my photography but also the world around me. This bias, while offering comfort and a sense of belonging, also posed a subtle challenge: it limited my perspective, narrowing my field of view to the familiar, to what I already knew and loved.


As we journeyed through the nuances of insider bias, from its psychological roots to its behavioral and neurological implications, we uncovered the subtle but sometimes profound influence of this bias in our lives. It affects not just the brands we champion or the teams we support, but also the openness with which we approach new ideas, people, and experiences. The recognition of this bias within ourselves is not an admonishment but an invitation—an invitation to explore, to grow, and to embrace the richness of diversity that surrounds us.


Employing the HERO Skills in our daily lives offers a pathway toward overcoming the limitations imposed by insider bias. Humility asks us to recognize our biases and consider perspectives other than our own. Empathy encourages us to feel the value in those perspectives, to understand that different does not mean less. Reflection prompts us to question the origins of our loyalties and whether they serve us or hold us back. And Open-mindedness, perhaps the most challenging yet rewarding of all, urges us to step into the unknown, to embrace new experiences with a sense of adventure and curiosity.


As we conclude this exploration of insider bias, let us carry forward the lesson that while our biases can shape our view of the world, they do not have to define it. Let us remember that every step outside our comfort zone is a step toward a broader, more inclusive perspective. Let this journey be a reminder that, like my son’s golf bag is filled with many different types of clubs, the world we experience has even more “clubs,” each with a slightly different purpose than the other.


So, let us challenge ourselves this next week, this next month, to embark on a journey of intentional exploration and self-discovery. Choose one aspect of your life where you've noticed insider bias might be at play. It could be the media you consume, the social circles you engage with, the brands you buy, or even the ideas and beliefs you hold dear. Employ the HERO Skills to address the bias. This challenge is more than just an exercise. It's a commitment to learning and growth and to expanding our horizons. It’s about recognizing the inherent safety we find in familiar people, groups, and beliefs and discovering the richness that lies outside our comfort zones. Think of it as breaking down the walls that insider bias can build around us, recognizing that walls can provide comfort but they can also imprison.


To learn more about cognitive biases like Insider Bias, the HERO Skills, and Dr. Robbins many talks and workshops, please contact him at or 616-818-6485.


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