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Flawed Mental Shortcuts & Damaging Biases — Interview with Dr. Donnie Horner

May 26, 2021 in

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Today we are talking about the mental shortcuts we take, most of them unconsciously, to make sense of and navigate and organize our worlds. These shortcuts can be useful to us in some ways (think reflexes to fight or flee when in danger), but these mental shortcuts can be harmful when they lead to biases that manifest in hiring, in the workplace, in the court system, etc.

It’s an important topic with deep ranging implications that we discuss with our guest Dr. Donnie Horner.

Donnie is a uniquely seasoned leader, consultant, advisor, and administrator with multifaceted experiences in academe, the private sector, and the military. His academic experiences range from Instructor to Department Head to endowed chair to tenured Professor to Provost. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point where he was an Army football QB. He holds multiple degrees – an M.S. in Transportation from MIT, an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology (Organizational Theory) from Stanford. He has taught at a number of universities including Stanford, West Point, Penn State, the University of Maryland, the US Naval Academy, Jacksonville University and more. As a career Army officer, Horner commanded a battalion during conflict in Bosnia, a CONUS battalion, and a company during conflict in Panama.

He has extensive experience consulting with Fortune 500 companies in the areas of organizational culture, organizational change, leadership, high performing teams, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. And has worked at the most senior levels in government and the military, including the Office of the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Army Chief of Staff. Donnie is also Senior VP at HigherEchelon, Inc. leading up the Human Capital Services division.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The way we store, access, retrieve, and apply information is flawed.
  • We are not aware of these flaws. [We don’t know that our thinking is flawed.]
  • The flaws can manifest as biases, which affect our ability to, for example, assess performance. This can mean we make inaccurate performance assessments, and the implications of that can reverberate throughout organizations for years, including:
    • Wrong people are sometimes promoted.
    • People-position misalignment.
    • Less job satisfaction.
    • Organization divisions lead by unfit leaders.
    • Increased disillusion and higher turnover.
    • Higher personnel costs, including higher training and education costs.
  • There are a number of effects and phenomena that affect our thinking and decision-making such as:
    • Fundamental Attribution Errors
    • Anchoring
    • Propinquity
    • Halo and Horn Effects
    • “Noise” such as time of day and day of the week when decisions are made
  • Knowledge generates greater self-awareness and mindfulness (critical thinking), which leads to informed action and greater accuracy in important decision-making moments.

Other Resources:

Belle Curve Podcast is sponsored by HigherEchelon, Inc. and produced and co-hosted by HigherEchelon Director of Marketing & Communications Rachel Bryars.