Shedding Your Implicit Bias: It’s Time for Design Thinking


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Isn’t the world amazing! Despite the recent floods, nuclear tension, and political divide in the United States, I continue to be in wonder of the kindness and compassion demonstrated by absolute strangers to flood victims. I also marvel at the way so many people graciously navigate the underlying tensions of our time and find common ground. But I’ll admit it. I am biased to see the world through an optimistic lens. (Looking back I suspect I learned it from parents who insisted, “If you can’t say something good then say nothing at all.”)

Biases, Biases Everywhere – Explicit and Implicit

We all have biases – mine certainly is not better than yours (if you’re pessimistic there are many situations where I wish I had a smidge more of that).

Biases come in handy. They serve as shortcuts to help us make sense of new situations or information. Psychologists often refer to these biases as “cognitive sets” because they “set” us up to process a rapidly changing world. The issue with biases is the degree to which we understand them. My understanding of my optimism bias is explicit (within my awareness and clearly understood). In business, however, so many of our biases are implicit (not well understood or conscious).

Beyond Psychology to Impact

So enough psychobabble, what is the relevance of “implicit bias” to customer experience excellence? In a nutshell, you can’t know what you don’t know, and best guesses are nothing more than an expression of implicit bias. To make my point and offer a solution that spotlights inherent biases, I turn to two relevant articles – one from the New York Times and the other from the Harvard Business Review.

The New York Times article written by Jessica Nordell recounts a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. According to the article, an attempt to improve a protocol for blood clot prevention (a critical issue since more people die annually from blood clots than AIDS, breast cancer, and car crashes combined) resulted in a curious finding. Researchers uncovered an implicit bias in the way doctors prescribe blood clot regimens. It was determined that without awareness and intent, physicians were more likely to treat blood clots in men more aggressively than blood clots in women. This differential treatment led to worse outcomes for women. According to the article, A Fix for Gender Bias in Health Care? Check:

In health care, gender disparities are especially pernicious. If you are a woman, studies have shown, you are not only less likely to receive blood clot prophylaxis, but you may also receive less intensive treatment for a heart attack. If you are a woman older than 50 who is critically ill, you are at particular risk of failing to receive life-saving interventions. If you have knee pain, you are less likely to be referred for a knee replacement than a man, and if you have heart failure, it may take longer to get EKGs.

Relevance to Customer Experience Design

Implicit biases mean life or death in healthcare and they likely also have a meaningful impact on your customers. So, how do you find and fix them?

As a customer experience designer, I’ve been blessed to work with many Fortune 500 companies who are rich with talented “design thinkers.” The field of design thinking has developed advanced toolkits to uncover implicit biases, listen intently to stakeholders, assess needs and strategize likely best solutions, quickly test and refine options, and focus on customer value.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review article, Health Care Providers Can Use Design Thinking to Improve Patient Experiences, Sharon Kim, Christopher Myers, and Lisa Allen note:

One of the most promising approaches for understanding patients’ experiences has been design thinking, a creative, human-centered problem-solving approach that leverages empathy, collective idea generation, rapid prototyping, and continuous testing to tackle complex challenges. Unlike traditional approaches to problem-solving, design thinkers take significant efforts to understand patients and their experiences before coming up with solutions. This thorough understanding of patients …is what guides the rest of the process. And because design thinking involves continuously testing and refining ideas, feedback is sought early and often, especially from patients.

Tools for Design Thinking

If you are not familiar with design thinking, much of the groundbreaking work has come from the website and software design arena. Here customers are thought of as “users” of the technology as such this specialty is often referred to as UX (user experience) as opposed to the commonly used term CX (customer experience).

To get oriented to design thinking, Rikke Dam and Teo Siang of the Interaction Design Foundation have written a helpful article titled 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process. The Interaction Design Foundation also offers a complimentary and detailed overview of design thinking in the form of a downloadable e-book (available at the “what is UX design” link on the Interaction Design Foundation landing page).

My Optimism and the Real Value of Design Thinking

While positivity is an explicit bias of mine, I’ve been a practitioner of design thinking for quite some time and credit it with immeasurable customer value. As such, I optimistically believe a deep dive into design thinking, can and will help you shed your implicit biases, and guide a data-driven, collaborative inquiry into solutions that will help you win more customers, maximize their loyalty, and turn even more of those customers into raving fans!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., an organizational consultant and the chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience, authored The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the best-selling The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.


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