Accept Bias and Learn

Yesterday I gave a talk at Omnichannel X about Bias in AI. I always learn a lot when I research talks, and this was no exception. But one of the key takeaways for me was how important it is to forgive ourselves for what we don’t know. We must accept our bias, and learn from it.

Why forgiveness?

“But Marli” (you may be thinking) “why should I forgive myself for being biased? Isn’t bias bad?” Yes, bias is harmful. But it’s also inherent to being human. I am biased in my thinking based on my previous experiences. I make assumptions. When I try to “do better” it means I’m questioning my assumptions, and thus not acting on my bias.

Think about how you feel when someone shows you something new. It can be exciting, interesting, maybe anxiety-provoking. Now think about how you feel when someone tells you you’re wrong. You get defensive. When you tell yourself “I’m wrong and awful for being biased,” you’re more likely to feel defensive. Instead, forgive yourself and accept the learning opportunity.

Accept bias and learn

When working on my Omnichannel X talk, I referenced a cringe moment of my own. Back in 2013 I fell in love with a book: Lean In. At the time I wrote a post recommending everyone read it. I couldn’t get enough of this book, written by a female C-level exec, telling me that I had the skills to get a seat at the table.

Perhaps a year later, someone on Twitter shared one of the many articles explaining how Lean In failed many people. I couldn’t understand it. I pushed back, defending how great the book had been for me. It took more time than I care to admit for me to realize my mistake: “it worked for me” is different from “it works for everyone”. I was allowing my bias – and then my defensiveness – to rule.

As a content strategist, as a manager, and as a human being, I want to do better. I want to accept my bias, and learn.

Less bias in our AI

As human beings, we have plenty of biases. That’s why removing bias from our work is a necessary part of working in UX. Just as user research removes assumptions about our audience, bias consideration removes assumptions about our society and ourselves. When we accept bias and learn from the books, articles, and people around us, we can create better experiences for everyone.

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