I like Robert McConnell. For those of you who do not know of him Robert McConnell is one of Vallejo’s City Council Members. I like him for a couple of reasons. One being his willingness to engage and respond to citizens whether in person, by email or on the phone. Another is his ability to make the Aloha shirt accepted as formal wear. Not the least of his likable attributes is his ability to compose thoughtful, considered questions as the Planning Commission interview. Councilman McConnell’s questions are unlike all of the other Council Member questions. They are of a type that have no defined right answer but are designed to expose your thought process. This type of question if often paired with a time and pressure element so that the respondent is encouraged to provide and initial, biased, gut reaction. This allows the interviewer the opportunity to gauge the interviewee’s style of thinking.
(Note: This is a longer written piece. It attempts to summarize complex thinking. I encourage you to read it through and share your thoughts about it with me.)
For example a standard question of this type might be: How many quarters does it take to reach the top of the Empire State building?
Another is: Which Sesame Street character would you choose to best describe yourself?
No right answer, just a baring of one’s soul.
I was asked something like this:
Given module 3 of the Code Upgrade with regards to aesthetics, etcetera. If you were to vote on a motion, given equally passionate arguments on both sides how would you set aside your own bias?
Now, I am not quick on my feet so I make a joke about how my personal bias is to have an Ice Cream Shop downtown. I got a laugh from the council, not McConnell. My nervousness now showing I fumble around a bit talking about how aesthetics are important, blah, blah. (I had answered the other questions well until this point.) He repeated his question. This time I answered, “I would sleep on it.” I got a slight nod from the mayor. Thanks Bob. This was not enough for Robert. ( I am pretty much on a first name basis with the Council but due to the formality of the interview I stayed with Council Person this and Your Honor that during the interview.)
So Robert amended the question by asking, “There was no opportunity for a continuance, you have to vote right now. How would you set aside your bias?” Okay, let’s review.
- Passionate opinions to the left of me.
- Passionate opinions to the right of me.
- Passionate opinions if front of me.
- Into the Valley of Death rode the Planning Commissioner.
I joked the other night with friends that the scenario seemed to me like: One side wanted X, the other side wanted Y. There is a shooter outside and you have to vote right now! “Okay,” Tom says throwing his arms in the air, “I vote NO!”
My point being obvious. Unless someone is in imminent danger there is no reason why one should not ‘sleep on it’ and consider their vote before casting it. Hence the phrase, ‘In my considered opinion.’
But Council McConnell was not wrong in asking me that question. If fact, I liked it very much no matter how much it threw me. In the end I stated that I would openly declare my bias. Here is the thing, the word bias has a bad aura about it, just like Democratic Socialism. Scary until you understand the complexities. Bias, intuition and gut response. We place so much weight on this approach to decision making. Is our gut reaction right? It feels right, does it not? Well, I have to ask, what exactly goes into the making of a bias?
There is a philosophy of decision making that defines the process in terms of Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is often described as close to intuitive thought or bias. It is the non-stop process, in our brains, that can intake, assimilate, rapidly process and respond to large amounts of information. The key word being rapidly. Type 2 is the slow deliberate portion of our decision making process. It is slower, requires greater concentration and narrows one’s focus. Two quick examples are these:
Type 1. You are driving a car, listening to the radio, having a conversation and you are still able to swerve out of the way from a ball being thrown onto the street. (You may not be able to do this when you first start learning but after some years of experience it becomes second nature, a gut reaction.)
Type 2. In your head divide 100 by 0.3. (You can do it but you have to focus all of your thinking energy to this and you have to stop reading this article to do it. The answer is 333.333…. and I got it by using a calculator. Please do not stop reading this.)
Quick test of Type 1 and potential bias. Write down the first answer that pops in your head to this next question. I will get back to it at the end of this piece.
A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
So here is the thing. Type 1 thinking can change with experience and knowledge. Just as your ability to respond to events while driving did. Type 2 thinking has the ability to override and over write Type 1 thinking but requires time, focus and effort. It is slower and therefore not employed as often as we would like. Type 1 decision making is easy and feels right but oftentimes is not the best response. Unless, you are an expert in the field. Then all of the Type 2 learning that you did will influence your Type 1, read biased, response.
Robert McConnell is an attorney and he knows full well that the immediate Type 1 response will show a persons biased thinking approach. He is also aware that any trial jury is required to retire and deliberate. Those 12 chosen people are instructed by law to slow down and consider their opinions before rendering a judgement. Type 2 thinking.
So I stick by my answers, Councilman McConnell, I would sleep on it. While I am taken with Craftsman style homes and have made a nice living restoring Victorians, I can still appreciate the aesthetic of the Postmodern, the Salt Box or the Cottage style of homes. No bias here. A Planning Commissioner must listen to the opinions of the citizens and take the time to consider their impact on the proposed project. Bias should be part of that consideration and is best when identified as informed or uniformed. At that point it the decision to incorporate it, or set it aside, can be made. (Oh how I wish I said that last sentence in the interview.)
I know that I would be a positive addition to the City of Vallejo’s Planning Commission and would very much like the opportunity to serve my community in this way. My opinions are biased. They are the result of a lifetime of learning, failing, learning again and building successes one step at a time. If after reading this piece you feel that my approach to decision making is one that you appreciate then please take a moment to write to our Council Members and express to them why you think that I would be a positive addition to that Commission. Their contact information may be found here:
Thanks for following along with me.
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Until next time,
P.S. The answers to the questions above are:
- As many quarters as it takes to add up to the amount that is charged to ride the elevator to the top. (This is my answer. Some people measure the thickness and divide that into the height of the building. That is okay too. This type of question merely demonstrates how you problem solve.)
- I am not going to share my Sesame street character – sorry.
- The ball costs .05¢. If the bat is $1.00 more than the ball it must cost $1.05 and the ball must cost .05¢. I you wrote .10¢ you are not alone. But this is an example of how inaccurate Type 1 or gut reaction thinking can be. Please take time to think before speaking.
2 Replies to “I AM BIASED”
Bias is a knee-jerk reaction to the prospect of change. It’s immediate, threatening and unknown but often when one thinks it through and sleeps on it you can see the benefits and it’s not so terrifying and maybe a good thing after all.
Wish I could write to the Council. I wouldn’t have to sleep on it. So thoughtful. Thank you.